In an interesting turn of events, let us revert back to our primary classes with Fables of Aesop. One particular story – A dog and his reflection, came to my mind as I read this question. Let us refresh this story word by word from fablesofaesop.com
A Dog, to whom the butcher had thrown a bone, was hurrying home with his prize as fast as he could go. As he crossed a narrow footbridge, he happened to look down and saw himself reflected in the quiet water as if in a mirror. But the greedy Dog thought he saw a real Dog carrying a bone much bigger than his own.
If he had stopped to think he would have known better. But instead of thinking, he dropped his bone and sprang at the Dog in the river, only to find himself swimming for dear life to reach the shore. At last, he managed to scramble out, and as he stood sadly thinking about the good bone he had lost, he realized what a stupid Dog he had been.
Allow that wave of nostalgia to hit you before moving on.
This story taught us not to be greedy. But, in the context of our question, “can dogs recognize their own breed?”, this story can be perceived in another way. There have been a multitude of studies done on dogs, and the more we learn about them, the more intrigued we get.
The more we realize that dogs are far more complicated than we ever gave them credit for. However, if a dog cannot recognize his own self in his reflection, how can we be so sure he can recognize others of his own breed?
Can Dogs Recognise Their Own Breed?
There’s no simple answer unfortunately as to whether dogs can recognise their own breed, not much in life is ever straight forward, and this is one of those situations!
An important test in determining whether or not animals have similar cognitive functions like humans, is the mirror test. Sadly, dogs have failed this test on multiple occasions. Making us wonder why exactly our dog approaches other dogs of his own kind? After all, it has allegedly happened to many dog owners taking a walk in the dog park.
There have also been studies where dogs are made to see pictures of other species – cats, rats, cows, rabbits, vs, other dogs. Dogs were provided with treats if they selected dog as the answer. Lo and behold, our beloved pooches were able to identify their own species without much trouble.
What does that say to us? Well. With over 300 dog breeds (not even counting the cross breeds), even us homo sapiens have a fair bit of trouble in recognizing a dog breed. So can we cut our canine pals some slack here?
The answer is not as simple as, “Yes, dogs can recognize their own breed.” Or “No, dogs cannot recognize their own breed”.
We have to keep in mind that dogs are not geared towards sightseeing, they sense their environment via their olfactory senses. So, is it not worth considering that the infamous mirror test is not a suitable one to gauge the intelligence of our four-legged best friends?
In a recent study, thinking along the same line, Alexandra Horowitz, a researcher from Barnard College, conducted a study in which she used Gatti’s sniff test.
She conducted two different experiments, with varying elements and a control. 36 dogs were given three canisters, one canister contained water as control, the other two had varying contents.
In trial 1 – Dogs spent more time sniffing the canister with the mixed urine, but they did spend less time sniffing a familiar dog’s urine mixed in with their own.
In trial 2 – Dogs spent same amount of time smelling both the canisters.
In trial 3 – Dogs spent more time sniffing the canister with their own urine mixed with the essential oil.
Man’s best friend definitely seems more interested in sniffing his own scent when it is mixed in with something else. Indicating that he recognizes it clearly. Doesn’t that qualify as passing the mirror test of self-awareness?
What Are The Signs My Dog Can Identify His Own Breed?
There you are, strolling along the beach, taking a much needed leisurely stroll with your best friend, when your dog gets the urge to do some business of his own, he sniffs the air, tries to bolt, and you wonder why. You see another beautiful Labrador somewhere off in the far distance making its way towards you, owner in tow.
It all makes sense now. You might also see your dog shooting up his tail high or wagging it incessantly, with an alert head, ears and hair standing up, or he may also start to whine and tilt his head and become acutely aware and observant. (Signs may vary from dog to dog.)
What Do I Do?
Breathe. Command your dog to sit or stay. Ask the owner of the other dog before letting your dog run away towards them. Make sure they are not uncomfortable. And keep a close eye on both dogs, if aggression follows, be right there to break up the tension.
Can I Train My Dog To Identify Other Dogs?
You don’t really have to train your dog to identify other dogs. They are able to do so instinctively. In any case, training your dog to be calm in the face of another dog is a socially acceptable manner to ingrain in your dog.
Work with them to build a routine and get them to listen to you, even when they don’t want to. Their animal instincts need to be held in check by training them to be obedient and polite, not aggressive when another dog comes in the picture.
Dogs can instinctively pick up on scents and rely on hearing to distinguish their species from another. It has been proven by studies that dogs can identify other dogs by sight alone. You can use similar tactics to get your dog to be polite if they run into another dog.
As intelligent as dogs are it’s highly unlikely to assume or conclude that dogs can recognise their own breed. They’re certainly likely to share similar characteristics and traits, or energy levels is a similar age, but I’m afraid that’s most likely it.