Dogs And Other Animals May Also Have Conscience


If you're a pet owner, it would not be surprising for you to know that your pet dog and other animals actually possess the aptitude of self-awareness.

Animals such as magpies, an Asian elephant, great apes, some ants and some dolphins have all previously passed the "mirror test" in which they recognize themselves apart from another object reflected in a mirror.

However, when dogs went through the mirror test, they were found to be uninterested in their own reflection. Instead, they usually sniff or urinate around the mirror, experts said.

In a study featured in Ethology, Ecology & Evolution, Roberto Cazzolla Gatti of the Tomsk State University in Russia explained that the sniff test of self-recognition (STSR) proves that dogs have significant self-consciousness.

The STSR is a modified version of the mirror test and it examines the use of the sense of smell instead of the sense of sight, Gatti said.

"When I became interested in this aspect of ethology I went through the scientific literature and I discovered that, however, the ability to recognize their [animals] own image in the mirror is a skill extremely rare in the animal kingdom," said Gatti.

So in order to find out if dogs were self-aware, Gatti collected urine samples from four dogs and stored them in labeled containers. He then submitted each dog to STSR, and repeated the test four times a year at the start of each season.

Within a fence, Gatti placed five urine samples that contained the scent of each dog's urine, as well as a blank sample that contained odorless cotton wool. When the containers were opened, each dog was introduced to the interior of the cage and moved freely for five minutes. Gatti recorded the time taken by each dog to sniff each sample.

The study found that each dog devoted more time to sniff the urine samples of other dogs rather than their own. Their behavior confirmed Gatti's hypothesis that dogs are aware of the scent of their own urine, making them uninterested in it and more interested in that of other dogs. Therefore, dogs are creatures who are self-aware, said Gatti.

Additionally, Gatti found a link between the age of the dog and the time it took for the animal to sniff the urine. He said that it strongly supports the idea that self-consciousness increases with age, as found in humans and other animals like chimpanzees.

Lastly, Gatti believes that the findings of the study, entitled "Self-consciousness: beyond the looking-glass and what dogs found there," present clear empirical evidence regarding animal behavior and cognition.

Photo: Elizabeth Tersigni | Flickr

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