Dogs may not be able to recognize themselves in the mirror, but that doesn’t mean our pets don’t have a certain level of self-awareness.
Recent research has shown that dogs can recognize their unique scent, such as looking at what is called an “olfactory mirror”. In a new study, dogs may also be aware of their bodies.
Bodily perception is the ability to think of your body as an obvious object in relation to other surrounding objects. It is considered to be one of the fundamental foundations of self-advocacy.
In children of the human race, this type of self-awareness has historically been verified by asking a child to put back the blanket they are currently sitting on. If the child is able to realize that he has to stand up and withdraw his body as an obstacle, then he is declared “body conscious”.
Usually, it takes around 18 months or a year for babies to have the intellectual capacity to figure this out.
To adapt this test for dogs, the researchers tried to see if the animals had the same level of body awareness.
In 2019, a small study found that dogs had some idea of body size and how that might affect their movements around the world, but here’s the study. The first study indicated that their body in general was seen as a hindrance.
The researchers found that 32 dogs of different breeds and sizes met the requirements of the test, involving pets picking up a toy and giving it to their owner. The highlight is the toy that is connected to a mat that the dogs sit on.
In other words, to bring a toy to its owner, the dog must first get off the mat. These results are then compared to what happens when the toy doesn’t stick to anything at all or when the toy is grounded.
“This way when the dogs try to pick up the target it is again impossible, however the dogs do not feel a parallel lift under their feet,” the authors said.
Without this tug-of-war under them, the dogs wouldn’t have come off the mat so quickly. They realize that their position is not the problem. But when the dog feels pulled on the mat below, he quickly comes out and picks up the toy. However, it was not just this feeling that surprised the dogs.
Even when the toys were tied to the ground and a researcher was pulling the dogs’ feet with a rope, they still weren’t jumping off the mat as quickly. This shows that the dog can understand when a toss is done on their own effort and when a toss is done regardless of the challenge.
In summary, the animals in the study were able to distinguish “my body is an obstacle” and simply “there is an obstacle”. They also know how to instinctively move the body to overcome obstacles to success.
“We believe that the reactions of dogs to the main test can be explained based on bodily perception and understanding of the consequences of their actions,” the researchers explained.
More research is needed to understand the continuity of self-awareness that exists in the animal kingdom and not just in dogs. Very little research has been done on the perception of animals who view their bodies as an obstacle.
Elephants are one of the only other animals to have undergone the same body-to-obstacle tests. In one such study, the researchers found that Asian elephants came out of the mat much faster when needed for a successful mission.
The results are similar to what is currently shown in dogs, but elephants can also recognize themselves in the mirror, not like dogs.
The mirror test is based on visual appearance, but the “body as an obstacle” test is about our own actions and the physical properties of our body as an extension of that. Elephants have both of these types of self-awareness.
The researchers concluded that: “Although dogs did not pass the mirror marking test, we now have evidence that they can pass the body like an obstacle course. the presence or absence of a specific building block may vary depending on the species.