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Pet Connection Q&A: Can dogs recognize themselves in mirror?

Published: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6D

Our dog will sometimes come into the bedroom and startle at the sight of herself in our mirrored closet doors. Sometimes she'll even bark. Other times she takes no notice of her reflection at all. Does she recognize that it's her? Or think it's another dog?

– Via Facebook

The answer is actually a little more complex. In psychology circles, the mirror test is considered an important evaluation of self-awareness in animals and a sign of the normal development of cognitive skills in children.

Humans are typically 18 months old before they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Among animals, only higher primates, dolphins, orcas, elephants and, surprisingly, European magpies are currently known to recognize that what they see in a mirror is a reflection of themselves. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that while pigs show no sign of recognizing their own reflections, they are able to use other information seen in the mirror, such as identifying the location of food placed behind them.

That doesn't necessarily mean other animals aren't intelligent enough to know when they run across other signs of themselves. The animals that "pass" the mirror test rely on vision as their primary sense. When a cat or dog first sees its image in the mirror, it often reacts as if a strange animal suddenly appeared.

But when the image doesn't pass the "sniff test," the pet generally decides to ignore it for good.

– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

The buzz

Pet-store puppies prone to having problems

• If you find yourself falling in love with that puppy in the window of a pet shop, or dying to click "Buy me!" on an Internet puppy site, you'd better think again. A study of behavioral problems in these dogs – which typically come from large-scale commercial breeders known as "puppy mills" – suggests you'll be buying more than your share of trouble.

The study of more than 2,000 dogs, published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at puppies from commercial sources vs. small-scale, home-based breeders. The puppies sold through typical puppy-mill outlets had high rates of behavior problems, including shyness and aggression, and extreme sensitivity to touch. The animals were also harder to house-train.

"Until the causes of the unfavorable differences detected in this group of dogs can be specifically identified and remedied, we cannot recommend that puppies be obtained from pet stores," the study's authors state in conclusion.

• Some dogs need their space. That's the message of YellowDogProject.com, which is raising awareness of the meaning of a yellow ribbon on a dog's leash. The ribbons mean a dog may be fearful, aggressive or even too fragile to be pounced on by friendly people or dogs. The website says the concept has been introduced in almost 50 countries. It's based on putting a ribbon on horses tail, to indicate and animal that may kick.

– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/ DrMartyBecker.

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