Why Does My Dog Stare in the Mirror?

If you have been a dog owner for quite a time now, you may have noticed that most dogs do not pay attention to their reflection in the mirror.  

No matter how much you put them in front of it and tell them, “that’s you,” they don’t seem to understand what you’re saying. 

But this time, it’s an unusual case. Why does my dog stare in the mirror? 

We share with you whether dogs can recognize themselves in the mirror and why they might be staring at the mirror. We also talk about what to do if your dog recognizes their reflection. 

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dog stare in the mirror

Can Dogs Recognize Themselves in the Mirror? 

There are various debates regarding a dog’s understanding of the mirror and their self-awareness.  

When we look at the mirror, we know that it is our reflection. But this is a learned behavior. We are not born with.  

That is why young infants get so excited about their reflections. They think they are interacting with what appears to be another baby.  

But as they age from 18 to 24 months, they start understanding that they are looking at themselves in the mirror. 

What about our furry friends? Do they have the same social intelligence as us?  

Psychologist Gordon Gallup conducted what is known as the mirror test to find out about this.  

Chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, and magpies passed the test, meaning they see their reflection in the mirror and may be self-aware. 

However, dogs and other species don’t see themselves in the mirror. They see the image as another animal or come to ignore it completely.  

Hence, they lack this self-awareness and consciousness.  

Other researchers disagree with the idea of a dog’s lack of self-awareness.  

An experiment by Mark Bekoff called the Yellow Snow Study attempted to prove that dogs can be self-aware when they use their superior sense of smell. 

Bekoff walked his dog, Jethro, throughout five winters. He put on his gloves and when Jethro pees and he would move it to another location. He would also move the pee of other dogs.  

If Jethro showed less interest in his urine, that could mean he is self-aware as an olfactory creature.  

But the study, like Gallup’s, had limitations and criticisms too. For instance, it was only Jethro involved in the study.  

Hence, it’s hard to tell whether dogs recognize themselves in the mirror or not.  

The Truth About Dogs and Mirrors

The three most common and accepted assumptions about dogs and mirrors are: 

  1. Dogs, especially puppies, have no understanding of a mirror. They see another creature in the mirror that can be a friend or a foe to them. 
  2. Dogs can recognize their reflection in the mirror, but they couldn’t care less as they do not know if it is themselves or another creature. 
  3. Dogs do recognize themselves in the mirror, but they do not have the same vanity as us.    

Most Dogs Ignore Mirrors 

Most dogs usually just ignore mirrors because the mirror-dog doesn’t react the way a real, living animal would, so they feel less interested.  

Your dog is also less likely to stare at the reflection because the mirror-dog doesn’t have a smell, leaving them unbothered.  

This process is called habituation. It’s when an animal loses interest in something to preserve their energy and focus on other things. 

Why Does My Dog Stare in the Mirror? 

Although dogs ignore mirrors most of the time, some curiously stare at it all the time. Why do they do this? 

There are three possible reasons why dogs stare in the mirror.  

First, they may see a potential friend or enemy, depending on how they react. 

If they get too close and smell them, they might be interested. On the other hand, barking or growling may indicate they perceive an enemy.  

However, this situation happens rarely because dogs are usually unbothered due to the lack of smell of the mirror-dog.  

Those who bark at their reflection, cower in fear, or give a little bow as an invitation to play, are usually puppies who still have a lot to learn.  

After a while, they will lose interest in their reflection because the mirror-dog doesn’t act the way a real living dog does. 

A second possible conclusion is that they see something similar to them, but they do not recognize it as themselves and they couldn’t care less. 

Finally, dogs may stare in the mirror because they recognize themselves, but they have no inclination to watch themselves at all.  

What to Do if Your Dog Recognizes Their Reflection 

If you think your dog sees their reflection in the mirror, be aware of how they react.  

If they ever get aggressive, stop them immediately. Otherwise, it can contribute to more aggression in the house which they can project to others.  

Remove the cause of aggression by keeping your dog out of rooms with mirrors. It’s also a warning sign that your dog may react aggressively when socializing with other dogs in general. 

You may also want to take them to behavioral therapy to resolve the issue as soon as possible. You can also teach your pup how to calm down.

If your dog gets too playful with their reflection, make sure you don’t let them get too close and shatter the mirror.

It not only damages your house but also causes injury to them and other people near the mirror.  

A good option is to shut your dog out of the room, cover up the mirror, or move the mirror in places where your dog is less likely to stay. 

Should You Train Your Dog to Recognize Themselves in the Mirror? 

It’s hard, almost impossible, to train your dog to recognize themselves in the mirror, but there is no right or wrong behavior when it comes to your dog and their reflection in the mirror. 

There is still a lot to learn about animal behavior. If your dog stares at the mirror, it could be because they think it’s an unsettling fellow dog who wants to play or fight them.  

It could also be because they see a similar creature but don’t really care about them, or because they know it is themselves. 

Whatever the reason is, make sure to prevent your dog from being aggressive toward their reflection so as not to cause behavioral issues, destruction of the house, and injuries caused by a shattered mirror!