Cats/Dogs know what's in the mirror?

Domesticated animals (especially dogs) are often bred specifically for intelligence. Certain breeds are considered to be more intelligent than others.

I guess I don’t know what to say about animals other than primates recognizing themselves, but I do have anecdotes:

My dog seems unconcerned with her reflection despite being very territorial and a bit jumpy when it comes to strangers. She doesn’t get to see mirrors often but when she does, she looks me right in the eye and ignores herself. I’m convinced she recognizes me. Sometimes she watches TV, other times not. I think she can recognize certain things consistently (she always barks at a certain commercial starring a cow), but I bet sound plays a big part.

Every bird I’ve owned believed his reflection was another bird - trying to feed it, trying to get it to preen him, “talking” to it, etc. As for flying into mirrors, any maneuver to avoid the “other” bird would of course be futile, so for all we know, they’re trying very hard to miss.


Darn it, now I want a border collie. So it leads me to believe that we’re forcing the evolution of domesticated animals. My cats don’t seem especially intelligent, though one is obviously smarter than the other, but one I had a few years ago was distinctly smarter than both of these cats combined.

Try putting the food in a different spot while they are looking in the mirror and see if they go right to the food or to the old location. Cats are creatures of habit so this would be a better indicator of whether they realize the mirror is a reflection or not.

If it’s any comfort, jovan, I remember this show as well. Unfortunately, my memories are also hazy. But I do remember thinking how amusing it was to watch the apes play with their reflections. Seems like they compared them to toddler-aged humans?

And just to add a little more data to this scientific survey, my pets and mirrors/TVs/computers:

Lacy, a paranoid Dalmatian, would sometimes bark at herself, sometimes would ignore her reflection. Never paid attention to TV.

Rosie, a sweet, lovable mutt who is much smarter than she looks, never pays attention to mirrors, but will perk up at the sound of barking or howling on TV.

Lou, another mutt, who is much dumber than she looks and a scaredy-cat into the bargain, never pays attention to anything unless it’s “real.” Of course, this is a dog who will hide under the table when there’s a fly buzzing around.

Max & Sophie (These two are a pair and impossible to separate), two kitties who are very intelligent. They open cabinets and mini-blinds and drink out of the sink, and will wake me up in the morning if I’m in danger of over-sleeping. Both of them will play with the reflections on TV, and LOVE to chase the mouse pointer on the computer. They don’t seem to pay much attention to the kitties in the mirror, though.

(In case you’re wondering, no, these animals are not all in the same household. In fact, if I had to list all the animals I feel are my pets, we’d be here all day. So I’ll just leave it to the “immediate family.”)

>>>Domesticated animals (especially dogs) are often bred specifically for intelligence. Certain breeds are considered to be more intelligent than others. <<<

As a side-note to this, this seems to measure a dog’s ability to work. While a working dog needs to be intelligent, I don’t think dogs that won’t sit on command are necessarily dumb. I’ve got two dogs. My Rotti/Lab mix is very smart, and very stubborn. I consider her smart because she figures things out on her own. Granted, she’s not doing complex math or anything (she barely passed pre-algebra), but she’s a smart girl. As for my other dog, he’s of pretty average intelligence, but he’s more obedient because it’s easy to scare him. On the other hand, he’s also the only dog I’ve ever known to blow bubbles in the water dish. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen a dog do!

Actually, this is the test for self-cognisance. Only three animals have ever passed this test. Humans, primates (most species), and dolphins. To the best of my knowledge, the test goes like this: The animals are allowed to look in the mirror. Then, a dot is marked on different parts of the body, first of which is the forehead. The primates see the dot in the mirror, and touch their foreheads to find it. Dolphins’ dots will be places around their body, and every time they stop looking when they find the dot. Usually they are quite happy to realize that what they’re looking at is themselves. Other animals tend to focus on the mirror itself in curiousity, never even thinking that could be themself. IMO, dolphins are much smarter than primates, but we lack the capabilities to communicate with them. But that’s a whole 'nother thread altogether.

This is why I said that I would gladly take my cats into any laboratory and prove that they DO understand mirrors. Just as most ‘cat behaviorists’ are full of baloney because they base their conclusions on a very small, inaccurate sample, many laboratory experiments are serously flawed because of 1) the difficulty of devising experiments involving animals that produce objective results; 2) the unnatural nature of the laboratory environment, which distorts animal behavior; and 3) preconceived notions by the researchers.

I can assure you that I am NOT anthropomorphizing my cats. Heck, I cut my teeth on The Naked Ape. When I am observing any animal behavior, I try to relate what I am seeing to the entire evolutionary background of the animal. It is also extremely important to have a pretty good understanding of how any animal lives when in a natural environment, as even after thousands of years of domestication the behaviors developed that enabled them to survive ‘in the wild’ form the basis for all behaviors. I see many instances of anthropomorhization in reports of behavioral studies done by researchers, and also many cases of ‘human arrogance’, where researchers suddenly make a flying leap to conclude that an animal did NOT perform a specific behavior for the same reason a human would have, simply because they assume that it’s not possible!

In order to communicate with and understand my cats, I need to try to see the world through THEIR eyes.

I can’t say for sure that my cats realize that the reflection they see right in front of them is theirs or simply something to be ignored. I’ve not seen the behavior described by MyFootsZZZ. However, they certainly realize, with experience, that the mirror is in some way representing what is occurring behind them.

As a matter of fact, I find the entire mirror/recognition/ape (BTW, dolphins and whales are also supposed to ‘recognize’ themselves in the mirror) conclusions to be highly anthropomorphized. The researchers seem to be basing their conclusions on the fact that other animals don’t ‘preen’ in front of the mirror. Has it ever occurred to them that vanity is a primate trait? Maybe other animals don’t play with their hair when looking in the mirror because they don’t care what they look like?

Mirror reflections are not an unnatural concept to animals - they see their reflection every time they take a drink of water. The major difference involving human mirrors is that they are usually upright, which IS unnatural - not something they have encountered in nature over millions of years. It requires some adjustment, and individual animals are going to respond in different ways - some by deciding to ignore the whole confusing issue. Cats, however, have evolved to be highly skilled solitary hunters and, in my opinion, many are quick to instinctively recognize the advantage a mirror may offer in stalking prey.

And I have a serious question for those who believe that animals are not aware of their individuality - how, then, do they recognize their names and the fact that a particular sound refers to them and not another animal? This isn’t a trick question - I’ve wondered how the non-sentient camp explains this and have never found any research addressing the question.

I couldn’t agree more. These test usually measure trainability, which can be a very valuable characterisitc of working dogs. But I believe trainability is composed of both intelligence and ‘willingness to please’. Dogs vary in both categories, and the most trainable ones are high in both.

We have two Basenjis. They are notoriously hard to train, but they can be very intelligent. They simply don’t do what you say unless they see an advantage for themselves in doing it. If they are doing something they find interesting, they will usually only come to you if you have food or a toy. You could say they are independent and stubborn, maybe that’s a little bit of an anthropomorphization, but it seems to hit the mark.

Niko, our male, is incredibly bright ( for a dog! :slight_smile: ). I’ve watched him untie knots to free himself from a leash. I’ve also watched him react to mirrors. He clearly understands that he is looking at himself. He has a very distinct notch in one ear that he received when he was attacked by another dog years ago. Everytime he sits in front of a mirror, he looks at that notch in the mirror and then tries to find it with his paw on his own ear. He also makes faces and moves his head around in various odd ways while watching in the mirror. The impression is that he is ‘posing’ to see what he looks like.

He can also clearly understand when he is looking at me in the mirror. One time I entered the room to see him sitting in front of a mirror. He immediately looked at my reflection, rather than turning around at the noise. As a further test, I made a scratching motion with my fingers. When he was a puppy, I would do this when I called him and he would trot right over to receive his head scratching. Now, he responds to the gesture alone, but only when I do it. He immediately turned around, ran right over, and placed his head under my scratching fingers.

Our other dog, Lexie, isn’t so bright. She has looked into mirrors, but she always seems uninterested. She doesn’t seem to think they are windows, because she will usually stare out a window for some time (even if nothing in particular is going on outside). Mirrors just don’t seem to be interesting at all to her.

Both dogs routinely ignore TV, unless there is a sound they are interested in. If they hear wildlife sounds, they will start watching and sometimes will sniff the speakers as well. If they hear siren noises, they will perk up and start running around looking for the problem (as they do when they hear those in the real world). When we watched a TV show that had Basenjis on it, Niko jumped up and went right to the TV. He pawed the screem, sniffed it, and even went walking around the TV, looking for where the dogs were. I’m still not sure what they thing of TV, but it seems they are physically capable of perceiving the images and certainly the sounds.

My conclusion is: Some dogs are much smarter than others. Not so earth-shattering, is it? Much the same for people as well, but the range is different. I think some dogs might be able to pass the ‘mirror test’ for self-cognizance and others won’t. I agree with coosa’s post immediately above regarding the attitudes of many animal behaviorists.

When my dog was a puppy, she would occasionally stare at herself in a mirror, for about 10 or 15 seconds at a time. She didn’t bark, play bow or make any of the other motions that she usually makes when she mets other dogs; she just looked, and responded with wonder when she moved her face a bit.

My dog is two years old now, and she no longer looks at mirrors. Dogs don’t have the sense of vanity that humans have, so why look in the mirror? I think many dogs are smart enough to know that the image they see reflected in the glass isn’t another dog – there’s no scent.

As for watching television, my dog will do that on occasion, especially if the show features other dogs. She’ll look with interest for about 20 seconds, and then move on, unless she’s settled in on the couch. She doesn’t bark back at television barking, even though I’ve got the sound going through high end stereo equipment. Again, in her mind, if there’s no scent, it’s not a “real dog.”

Looking out the window – she tends not to care that much, unless the window is just a little bit open. With the smells coming in from outside, she’ll stare out silently for hours. If one of the other dogs on the cul-de-sac is out, she’ll cry, and literally beg me to go out and play, just like a small human child would. If it’s a cat or an unfamiliar dog, she’ll perk up a bit, but not beg to go out.

Like **Enigma42’s[/b[ Basenjis, Portuguese Water Dogs have incredible breed recognition. With other breeds, my dog will approach a new dog with caution, going through the usual rituals before deciding whether that dog is a possible playmate or not. With other Porties, the meeting ritual is much shorter, and within a few seconds Bailey has a new best friend – always.

yeah, we got a handful, and put it in different place, it was almost a game, and my cat (after eating her crunchy) would look back in the mirror a lot, and we would do it again. We would put down the crunch so it didn’t make a noise. We put them to her right and left, and she had no problems with it.

“I remember seeing a tv show a while ago about primate intelligence. My memory is a bit foggy, but it was proven that only great apes and humans are capable of recognizing the reflection as their own. Other species perceive it as another individual.” (jovan)

Forgot dolphins.

There have been many studies which have proven an intelligence and brain weight/body weight link. Someone took these tests further to find out if any species could identify themselves in the mirror. Chimps, dolphins and humans only. Also the 3 on the highest end of the brain weight/body weight scale.

I’m not doubting cats and dogs see something (especially once this string turned into a “see how cute my pet is!” post), but they do not perceive their own reflection.

Will go home and post the a ref after work, sorry I cannot do it here and now.

From Scientific American, May 21, 2001:

I have 2 cats and a dog (who happens to be 1/2 border collie, and on the bright side of dog-dom) - and while they might express some interest in the mirror, they never express interest in themselves in the mirror, unless it is some sort of social behavior (pawing at that “other cat”). I’ve seen no indication of self-recognition.

Of course, that’s just anecdotal but it does coincide with the research I’ve found on the subject.

I don’t know about self-recognition, but my dog certainly seems to recognise and understand other things he sees in the mirror. The best example I can think of is if he’s lying at the bottom of the steps, facing the mirror that covers the length of the closet. Sometimes, when my sister comes dowm the stairs, he just continues to lie there, looking at the mirror. Other times, if she comes down carrying her jacket or a leash, he’ll get up excitedly without having turned his head to look at her directly. He’s not taken for a walk at specific times, and sis goes up and down those stairs a lot, so I think he recognises the jacket/leash as a sign that he’s gonna get walked.

My cats also seem to respond to events in a mirror in a way that indicates that they have associated the movement happening there with what’s “really” going on, like the examples with the cat food.

As for TV. my pets generally ignore it except for sudden sounds, eetc, which is kind of to be expected. My cousin’s dog, however, used to watch Matlock a lot. She’s look at the tv, wag her tail if he was on the screen, stop when he wasn’t, and occasionally would bark at a character. She picked the badguy like this once. Go figure.

Could not find anything on the net, but the book I read about these studies is “The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence” by Carl Sagan. Unfortunately the quotes were not where I thought they were, and a quick browse couldn’t locate them.

Very interesting book, thought creationists may find it dreadful. Though quite dry, highly recommended

reading it now

I don’t think anyone mentioned this, but someone did ask: yes, a mirror is a three dimensional virtual image.

IIRC, all images are three dimensional (physics term). They are either real (upside down) or virtual (swapped left and right, rightside up).

would be pleased to hear your thoughts when your done :slight_smile: