Research highlight

Animal behaviour: Dogs may have body awareness and understand consequences of own actions

Scientific Reports

February 19, 2021

Dogs may be able to recognize their own body as an obstacle and also understand the consequences of their own actions, according to a study involving 32 pet dogs published in Scientific Reports.

Previous research has shown that dogs have complex cognitive capabilities, such as empathy and social learning, but whether they also show any form of self-awareness was not clear.

Péter Pongrácz and Rita Lenkei tested dogs in a ‘body as an obstacle’ task, during which the dogs had to pick up and give a toy to their owner, whilst standing on a small mat to which the toy was attached. In order to lift the toy, the dogs had to leave the mat.

The authors found that dogs left the mat more frequently and sooner when the toy was attached to the mat than in control experiments, where it was attached to the ground and leaving the mat did not impact the dogs’ ability to pass the toy to their owners. Dogs were also found to leave the mat more often with the toy in their mouth if it was attached to the mat than if it was attached to the ground. The findings suggest that dogs were able to recognize their own body as the obstacle preventing them from giving the toy to their owner and that they differentiated between conditions when it was necessary to leave the mat to complete the task and when leaving the mat would not solve the problem.

The findings may support the idea that dogs have body awareness, the ability to understand the relationship of their own body to objects outside of themselves, which is a precursor of self-awareness, and that they may also have some understanding of the consequences of their own actions.

doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-82309-x

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