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Interesting dog ethnography

“Mirroring” or “behavior matching” is an affiliation behavior in primates, where one monkey or human imitates another to get closer to the target, socially. People will often do it when being flirtatious — just little gestures like taking a drink at the same time as the other person (anything bigger and more blatant just gets creepy).

What I’ve noticed around the Manor is that the dogs only mirror by breed. Tink and Beowulf mirror each other, sometimes, and Zille and Sid will mirror each other. But no Dobes ever mirror Shedders, or vice versa.

It’s interesting to think about because dogs supposedly don’t have a sense of “self”. Show a dog its own image in an actual mirror, and theoretically the dog will not think “Damn, I am one handsome beast.” But anecdotal evidence from my house suggests something is going on, or there would be cross-breed behavior matching happening.

It’s interesting to think about, anyway. Have any of my multi-dog-owning readers noticed a similar tendency? Do you think it makes a difference that Tink and Beowulf were raised with each other, while Zille and Sid spent their early days with other Shedders?

6 thoughts on “Interesting dog ethnography

  1. We often forget that because non-human’s senses aren’t the same as ours, and they may tend to rely on other senses, that tests meant to detect a sense of self in humans may be completely irrelevant to dogs – which is why I always find the whole “dogs don’t recognize themselves in mirrors” bit as proof that they lack a self kind of silly. Perhaps a better test of self identification in dogs might involve smelling, for example. It may vary based on breed or individual dog as well.

    People have reported dogs being able to pass a mirror test, but to the best of my knowledge it’s never been shown in a setting that qualifies as scientific.

  2. I think you’re exactly right. They sense familiarity, family even. They certainly have their own senses of identity, and clearly realize they’re part of a big pack now, with you as the alpha, but I’m not surprised they still have some separate sense of clan.

  3. We have 2 dachshunds and 3 cats here and I know, having spent years in multiple breed playgroups and years in dachshund only playgroups, that the dachshunds know their own. They are much more likely to greet other dachshunds and dachshund looking dogs and to want to play and frolic with dachshunds than they are with any other dogs, excepting dogs that belong to friends of mine who they see on a regular basis and who they are used to.

    That being said, our youngest cat was a foundling who was raised with one of the dachshunds before fiance and I combined households and so he, while very cat like, exhibits typical dog behavior more than any cat I’ve ever met and is more likely to play with the dogs than he is to do anything other than chase the older cats.

  4. But dogs do have a theory of mind – they have to in order to judge what others are doing and how it may benefit/harm them. In order to have a theory of mind, you have to have some vague notion of “self”. I think most social mammals and birds have theory of mind capabilities. But that’s my opinion. :)

    The mirror test is inherently biased. It’s not a true test of “self-recognition” in dogs. A better test would have more to do with olfactory abilities than visual cues – dogs do not rely heavily on eyesight to get by in the world. At least not compared to how they rely on scent.

    As to mirroring behavior. Celeste and Mina mirror each other. A playmate of Mina’s, a mixed breed (not Pit Bull) Wendal, will mirror her play behavior. Sherman mirrored whatever Mina was doing, but I think that has more to do with puppy neural and social development. I don’t know if I would see a difference in Celeste’s social preference if a dog looking similar to her came into our home. My guess is not – she has yet to meet a dog she likes, besides Mina. :( Both Celeste and Mina understand my gaze. Mina is especially in tune with where I’m looking. I can actually convince her to react LESS to another dog on leash by simply not looking at them.

    1. Yeah, I just wonder if they have a concept of “I am a German Shepherd” and therefore hang out with German Shepherds, as it were, or if it’s a consequence of early socialization in which the Dobes mostly saw each other and the Shedders mostly saw other Shedders.

  5. […] on my post about whether or not dogs have an image of self, Marji of For the Pit Bulls makes a great post about the problems of the “mirror test” […]

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