We have a miniature poodle who will be 3 years old soon. When she sees her reflection in the mirror, she gets all excited and barks at her reflection and runs around. We have new sliding mirror doors in our basement, and every time she goes down there she does this activity. We also have a standup mirror in our bedroom that we often have to tilt or cover with clothing so she does not see her reflection from the bed. One would think that after multiple times she would figure out there is no other dog. We have had two dogs in the past: a border collie and a corgi mix. Neither one seemed aware of, or at least did not care about, their reflection. Does this poodle's behavior necessarily mean our dog is either smart or stupid? Is it characteristic of particular breeds?
C.B., Beltsville, Md Aug 16, 2011
Mirror tests have been done with various animal species. Some, such as elephants and chimpanzees, show reactions when they see that a mark has been put on their foreheads. This may reflect a higher degree of self-awareness, if not narcissism, compared with other species that do not react to a change in their familiar mirror image. Parakeets will bill, coo and court their mirror image, while Siamese fighting fish will go into attack mode. Most dogs and cats quickly habituate to seeing themselves reflected in a mirror, but some, like your dog, will make a game out of it. One simple test of awareness is to stand behind the animal while looking into a mirror. The animal will often turn around, knowing that you are standing behind him/her, and look at you. A common reaction among cats and dogs is to go behind the mirror to see if there actually is another animal there. I wonder how often your dog sees other dogs and has the opportunity to interact with his own kind. He may benefit from a doggy play group. Readers may wish to experiment with their animals and share their observations with me. Get your animal used to seeing his mirror image, then stick a half-inch square of red or blue masking tape on his forehead. Get him used to wearing the tape for a few days, then put him in front of the mirror and see if he notices the tape and tries to remove it.
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