Do Animals Know What They Look Like?

This is my first post in General Questions so I hope this is the right forum for it, please move it if it doesn’t fit here.

Do animals know what they look like? It seems fairly obvious that cats recognize other cats and dogs recognize dogs and to a lesser extent they recognize other animals too, but do they know what they are (that all dogs are dogs and all cats are cats) or do theyeven know “like me” or “not like me”? And more specifically do they know what color they are?

I have a black cat and I also feed the feral cats and strays of the neighborhood. Recently a friendly (so obviously not feral) beautiful black cat has been showing up for breakfast and dinner. This is driving my indoor black cat insane. He wants to be with that cat. I don’t know if he wants to fight him (the new cat is an intact male, mine is a neutered male) or just visit. The new black cat is also trying to come into the house and shows interest in mine. I have opened the door a crack and they reach their paws out to each other and touch noses and such. But neither cat shows much interest in the other cats out there, just each other.

My only theory is that they must know they look alike and they are curious about it. Do they or do they even know they are both cats?

Depends on the species. Cats in particular are difficult to make cooperate. A common method of determining self-recognition is the mirror test. Cats don’t do too well on this.

Interesting question and very interesting response. That wiki link is definitely worth a read.

Somewhat related question: if we humans only use a fraction of our (relatively) enormous brains, does it scale down to smaller animals and their golf-ball sized brains, or are they using a greater percentage of their gray matter? How about scaling up to larger animals with (presumably) larger brains? I’m just asking about activity here, not complexity.

If is the operative word. If frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their butts on the ground when they hopped.

It takes an awful lot of energy to maintain our brains, and not a single part is wasted. It’s the same for other animals.

But do say, dogs know what another dog is? Or do they only know what is part of their group?

For instance, every once in awhile at night, my dog would see my cat outside in the yard. He’d look and growl and run toward it (the cat wan’t scared, 'cause she knew it was the dog) and then the dog would stop and turn around, as if to say “Oh wait a minute, I know that cat and it belongs to me.”

But I wonder does the dog know it’s a cat? Or does he simply know that particular animal belongs to his social group?

The idea is pretty much a myth, so there’s no need to try to place it in a greater context.

Apes can recognize their reflections in mirrors. I think dolphins have also passed the mirror test, too.

I don’t know but my cats are interesting in watching other cats, dogs, and birds on TV, but ignore other animals moving across the screen.

So, for example, if I am watching a nature show, and the lion is stalking the gazelle, my cat watches the lion with interest but pays no attention to the gazelle. They do seem to visually distinguish between cat-like/dog-like creatures, and other quadruped mammals.

My parents learned the hard way that dogs are aware of their looks.

One hot summer, dad gave our Cocker Spaniel a buzz cut. The dog ran into the house and crapped on the living room rug. No question she was getting even. She acted weird and hid the rest of the day. She did the same thing the next summer. This dog was house broke and never soiled the rug except after haircuts.

While it is obvious that the dog was showing her displeasure at having been buzzed, I wonder if it was because she didn’t like how she looked (or perceived she looked) or if it was just that she didn’t like the act of getting a hair cut. My dog hates it (and as a Lab mix he really doesn’t need hair cuts but sometimes I have him buzzed down to practically nothing because it makes him look cute and gets rid of the endless shedding for a bit) and will mope around after returning home, but is back to his usual self a little while later, way before he looks “normal” again.

Did the Cocker Spaniel keep up the behavior until she looked right again or was it a one-time “I’m angry at you” pooping?

The “10% of your brain” thing is a myth, and unlike many legends it doesn’t even have a basis of truth. Total brain electrical activity isn’t a good measure of intelligence. Humans have a larger proportion of neocortex and “higher brain areas” to “lower areas” than animals. Absolute brain size isn’t even a good measure of intelligence, but this ratio can be.

Presumably it is based on smell. I always found it interesting that a Rottweiler can tell that a Chihuahua is the same species.

Some breeds of dog can be raised with cats their entire life and be perfect with them. But if they see a cat outside, and especially if the cat runs, they can chase and even kill the cat. Their prey drive takes over and small furry shapes look like rabbits or whatever they are bred to chase.

We have had three Boxers, successively. Each of them wanted to chase cats, (and would curl up and sleep with the cats when the chasing was done). Each of them whimpered and pawed the ground (or car seats) as though wanting to go play when they saw another dog. And each of them went totally nuts, extending their “I see a dog” behavior to body wiggling, prolonged whining, and short yelps if they saw another Boxer.

I had a white shih tzu that was mainly interested in looking at dogs and white animals on TV. Other dogs would interest her the most, but she was comparatively much more excited when she saw a polar bear than a brown bear. I don’t know to what extent, however, that was just that white shows up better on screen, but polar bears don’t usually stand out too much in their surroundings anyway. She also preferred white toys to play with - her very favourites were little white squeaky stuffed toys.

That’s interesting. I never considered if a color preference applied to things other than other animals.

My black cat and my yellow dog both seem to prefer pink toys, but that is probably because that is what I buy them. :wink: The dog has a few blue things and the cat has a few purple and green things (concessions to my husband who thought the masculine animals needed more masculine-looking toys). I will have to get them some coordinated to themselves fluffies to see what they think.

She got over it by the next day. Every summer, buzz cut outside and a big pile of poop on the carpet later. Thankfully, the cut lasted the whole summer. It was for her own good and kept her cooler. I guess she didn’t see it that way. :wink:

I’ve often thought dogs have an awareness of their own appearance (body type, coloration, etc.) based on their mother and litter mates. I once worked in a dog training school, and many dogs would become especially interested or excited when they saw a dog of their own breed, or, in the case of mixed breeds, a dog that was similar-looking. In addition, dogs that had been friendly with a dog of a particular other breed (for example, a lab that had bonded with a collie) would often get excited when they saw any dog of that breed. (“Oh, you’re a collie! I"ll bet you’re nice!”) Of course, the reverse could also be true. One of our regulars was a german shepherd that got along with most other dogs, until one day when she encountered a bad-tempered bull mastiff. From that time on, the shepherd was very nervous around larger, pushed-in-nose dogs.

As for recognizing that other breeds were of the same species…sometimes there was some confusion. There was a roughly 200 lb English mastiff that would come to the training school sometimes. He had such a mellow attitude that the other dogs wouldn’t feel particularly threatened by him, but still there was always an initial reaction of, “Oh my God, what is that?” We had a shar pei that also caused quite a bit of confusion, apparently because of the shape of her muzzle.

As for cats, I’ve been around them all my life, and all I know is that they all know they’re beautiful. :slight_smile:

My dog will watch other dogs on the TV. If there’s a dog on the screen, he’ll perk up and stare at it and try to sniff it. He doesn’t have any reaction to seeing people or other animals on screen.

Apparently, sheep are very good at recognizing the faces of their flockmates (Nature 414(2001), 165-166, National Geographic).
Some birds do well in the mirror test (New Scientist)

The animals I’ve heard of passing the mirror test are (as mentioned) [great] apes, birds (parrots, maybe crows and ravens), and dolphins, but also elephants. In other words, put a spot on their head, show them a mirror: if they try to rub it off their own head, they pass. Any animal that can figure out how a mirror works I’d think can be fairly said to know what it looks like.

Anecdote != data, but I’m sure that cats and at least know how a mirror works.

More then once, I would reach from bed to get something off the bedside table, and my cat would watch me do it in the closet mirror. If I pick up her favourite toy (usually tucked under the pillow, where we hide it in the middle of the night), she immediately perks up and turns around to come get it.

I seem to recall my other cat (and previous ones) behaving similarly, but I admit it isn’t something I’ve really been looking for. I do know that my sister’s dog watches us in the hall mirror as we come up and down the staircase at my parent’s place.

They know how it works, but I don’t know if that really means there’s much awareness of themselves and their appearance.