Dogs Do Have a Theory of Mind

There has been some controversy about whether or not that dogs have self-awareness. For example, they classically fail the self-recognition mirror test where you surreptitiously place a dab of make-up on their face and see if they respond to it when they look in the mirror. Human infants typically respond to this test by touching the mark of their own face from around about 18 months of age. Other species including chimpanzees also have self-recognition on the mirror test thought there is still some debate about whether all other primates have this ability. This by the way was one of the first disputed research studies that got my former colleague Marc Hauser at Harvard into so much trouble. He reported that cotton-top tamarrins recognized when their hair had been dyed pinkizzimo punk pink but later had to retract the paper.

One animal for which there has also been some debate is the domesticated dog. They do not pass the mirror self-recognition but many dog owners are convinced that their pets know what they are thinking. Dogs have been selectively bred from wolves over 15,000 years for their sociability but I am still not sure whether they can appreciate mental states of others. Without this ability, communication would be almost impossible as understanding another fully requires having a Theory of Mind.

Anyway, I have just received this evidence that settles the matter. Clearly they do.


Filed under In the News

7 responses to “Dogs Do Have a Theory of Mind

  1. Haha, Pavlov would be suitable impressed 🙂

  2. Michele Johnson

    Ha, dogs are the best! I’ve experienced that look of (apparent) understanding and anticipation many times with my Shelties. Next to seeing the curvature of the Earth from space, I would love to know my dogs and I actually understood each other all these years.

    And btw, teasing dogs is a one-way ticket to hell. I hope you gave him a treat for entertaining you 🙂

  3. jacarandamimosifolia

    So this is the real reason for tution fees. Leading professors need more time to spend watch performing animals on YouTube!
    Hilarious, mind you…

    • brucehood

      to be honest, I did post this at around 7a.m this morning so technically not on public service time. Honest Gov..

  4. Andrew Atkinson


  5. Ah that is just so cute!

  6. Anonymous

    Dogs can recognize themselves in a mirror

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