Is She Weird, or Is This Normal? – Dogster

Oh wow, that's a nice sink down there.

Hi, I’m Savanna! Read my introduction to learn more about me and my spunky Chihuahua mix, Penny.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the cutest poochie of them all?” I say as I desperately hold Penny up to a mirror and try to get her to interact with her reflection. I see videos of cats and dogs all the time that interact with their reflection in crazy ways, or at least interact in some way, so I want to see how Penny interacts also. But I can’t get her to even look at herself in the mirror, let alone respond to it in some way.

I’ve tried holding her up to mirrors on the wall, putting her in front of mirrors on the floor; she just won’t look for more than a second. She does the same thing when you hold a camera up to take a selfie of her. I had my suspicions about why that was, but this whole situation led me to research dogs and their reflection in mirrors to see if my suspicions might check out. Here’s what I learned.

Dogs Can See Their Reflection

Obviously, dogs can see their reflection. We know this because most dogs (except for Penny, apparently) interact with their reflection in some way when they see it. Some are quite curious, tilting their heads this way and that, trying to figure out who that dog is that they’re looking at. Other dogs may respond immediately with aggression, baring their teeth at the “intruder” dog in their home.

But most dogs will at least look at their reflection, and I can’t get Penny to even look at hers. I assume she knows it’s there and sees it briefly, but she quickly turns her head away in less than a second as soon as I hold her up in front of the mirror, seemingly looking all around the room anywhere but in the mirror.

No selfies please.
No selfies, please.

Do Dogs See Their Reflection as Themselves?

This is another question I had when I was trying to figure out why Penny won’t look in a mirror. What I found out was that most dogs don’t see their reflection as being themselves, since dogs don’t understand the purpose of mirrors and don’t have a sense of self in the way that we humans do.

They do have some sense of self-awareness, but it’s more that they recognize their own scent versus the smell of another dog, and they can recall memories of themselves. But most dogs probably aren’t going to look in a mirror and recognize their ears, paws, tail, or body as belonging to them, since they can’t pick up on the smell, even if the dog in their reflection is making the same movements they are.

So, some dogs may see their reflection as another dog, but one that they can’t smell. Now it’s starting to make sense…

Here’s Why I Think Penny Won’t Look at Her Reflection

Since dogs use smell as a key way of communication, it may make some dogs really uneasy to see themselves in the mirror because they can’t get a good sense of the other dog.

I think Penny won’t look at her reflection because she’s not the confrontational type. She doesn’t really have a super “nervous” or aggressive personality, but rather she’s passive and shy around people and other animals she doesn’t know. You might even call her “socially awkward” in today’s lingo.

Don't make eye contact!
Don’t make eye contact!

When she sees another dog, she doesn’t react aggressively. She just simply turns away from them and tries to pretend they aren’t there instead. It’s almost like she’s trying really hard to make herself invisible. She does the same thing to two of our cats. Don’t get me wrong, she’s definitely curious about other dogs, cats, and people, but as soon as they start trying to interact with her, she doesn’t want anything to do with them.

It makes sense to me now why she won’t look at her reflection. I think she sees it as another dog and not as herself, so she would rather just avoid contact with it at all costs. I may be totally off-base with this, but it’s what makes the most sense to me.

It almost makes me wonder that if dogs could smell their reflection, would Penny recognize it as being herself and interact with it? But I guess this is something we’ll never know, since reflections don’t have a smell.

So, Penny Isn’t Just Weird After All

Success! Penny looking at her reflection

Now I know that Penny isn’t just weird. A lot of dogs won’t interact with their reflection because they may see it as another dog they can’t smell and it freaks them out. As much as I wish I could get a funny video of how Penny interacts with her reflection, I don’t think that will be happening any time in the foreseeable future. The good news is that at least I finally did get her to look at her reflection long enough to take a selfie with me, but she still had no response to it whatsoever, and she only looked for half a second. Oh well, I guess that’s better than nothing!

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