Before finding the answer, let us first understand what self-awareness is. Being self-aware means identifying oneself as a unique individual. When you understand yourself as an entity, you also consider others, their thoughts, and their actions as unique and separate from you.
There is no concrete reason to say whether animals, especially dogs, are aware of themselves. The closest study to find the same was done by Gordon Gallup in 19770. And it is an interesting one.
The reaction of a dog on seeing a mirror
Gordon Gallup conducted a test called the Mirror Test. Under this, the dog was marked with an order less red dye. This could be anywhere from the brow to the ears or the neck. He was then shown a mirror. A self aware individual would touch the mark, or turn around to see where it was.
However, the dog just barked at the mirror assuming that it was another dog (just as most of the puppies do when they initially encounter a mirror). The result was a little different with chimpanzees and dolphins, who at first treated the mirror image as another animal but slowly identified it as their own.
The next thing to consider was that dogs see the world through smell. Of course, there was a test for this which took almost five years.
Smell affected the dogs in a different way
Dogs being more of a sensory animal than a visual one, Marc Bekoff (Biologist at the University of Colorado) conducted a test called ‘yellow snow test’.
In this, for five winters, Marc walked behind his dog-Jethro- and collected the yellow snow (i.e. snow turned yellow from the dog’s urine). He then displaced this snow over different cleaner areas.
Next, he kept noticing the dog’s reaction whenever the dog would come across a yellow patch. He observed that when the patch was created by Jethro’s own urine, he sniffed a little and moved on. But when the patch was of another dog’s urine, he would urinate on the patch to mark his territory.
This proved that dogs identify themselves and their counterparts through smell.
So, are dogs self aware?
Dogs do have some sense of self-awareness, but it is not about identifying themselves as “this is me” or “my paw” but more of “my territory, my sleeping place, my food, and my human”.
Isn’t that cute? You belonging to your furball! Awww!