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Dogs Posses Self-Consciousness, New 'Sniff Test' Confirms

Dec 09, 2015 05:06 PM EST
VINCENNES, FRANCE - APRIL 19: 'Ulysse', a labrador stays in its hotel room at Actuel Dogs on April 19, 2011 in Vincennes, France.
(Photo : Franck Prevel/Getty Images)

Dogs, along with many of other animals, actually possess self-consciousness, a new study revealed. Scientists from the National Research Tomsk State University (TSU) used a innovative "sniff test" to prove man's best friend can in fact recognize their own reflection.

"Until now, only humans and great apes (gorillas excluded), a single Asian elephant, some dolphins, Eurasian magpies, and some ants have passed the test of mirror self-recognition (MSR)," Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, study author from TSU, explained in a news release. "A wide range of species has been observed to fail the test, including several species of monkeys, giant pandas, sea lions, birds, and dogs."

This is how the mirror test works: During a state of distraction or when under anesthesia, a red dot is placed on a subject's face, head or another body part. The basis of this test comes down to whether subjects can distinguish the "self" from "the other" in a mirror's reflection. Subjects make this distincton by first recognizing the dot in the reflection and then touching it the spot where it was placed on the body. Those who do so are judged to posses consciousness, which can also imply the posession of other behavioral traits such as empathy. In studies involving dogs, however, they appeared uninterested in the look mirrors, preferring to sniff and urinate. That's why Gatti devised a new approach. 

"I imagined a new test that was able to move beyond the mirror version, and I called it the "sniff test of self-recognition (STSR)," he said. "I demonstrated that even when applying it to multiple individuals living in groups and with different ages and sexes, this test provides significant evidence of self-awareness in dogs and can play a crucial role in showing that this capacity is not a specific feature of only great apes, humans, and a few other animals, but it depends on the way in which researchers try to verify it."

For his study, Gatti evaluated four stray dogs from which he collected urine samples. Each of the dogs was then subjected to a sniff test to determine self-awareness.

"Then, within a fence I placed  five urine samples containing the scent of each of the four dogs and a 'blank sample' filled only with cotton wool – odorless," Gatti added. "The containers were then opened and each dog was individually introduced to the inside of the cage and allowed to freely move for five minutes. The time taken by each dog to sniff each sample was recorded."

On the whole, the dogs spent more time sniffing urine samples from other dogs than they did their own, suggesting they knew their own smell, which means they were self-aware. It was further proved via age correlation that self-awareness increases with age in dogs, as it does with chimpanzees and humans.

Gatti's findings were recently published in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution

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Canine Cognition Study: Domestication Made Dogs Much Lazier Than Their Wild Counterparts

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