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Dogs have a conscience too: study


Moscow: Your pet dog and probably many other animals have a conscience too, according to a surprising new study that found the canines know who they are.

The ultimate proof of possession of a consciousness of self, of one’s body and one’s own identity, is evaluated based on the individual’s ability to use his own reflection to notice and touch the presence of a mark applied under anaesthesia or during a period of distraction on face, head or other parts of the body.

This test is known as the “mirror test” and many have often observed experiments with children or chimpanzees that easily identify themselves into the mirror and touch repeatedly the mark left by the investigator on their body.

However, dogs show no interest in looking in the mirror, but usually sniff or urinate around it. Dogs and wolves, like dolphins, show a high level of cognitive complexity, but previous attempts to demonstrate the self-recognition of these animals have been inconclusive.

The new study conducted by Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, associate professor at Tomsk State University in Russia showed that the “sniff test of self-recognition (STSR),” when applied in multiple individuals living in groups and with different ages and sexes, provides significant evidences of self-awareness in dogs.

The test can play a crucial role in showing that this capacity is not a specific feature of only great apes, humans and a few other animals, he said.

Gatti conducted the test on four dogs, all strays grown in semi-freedom. He collected urine samples from each dog and divided and stored them in containers relative to each dog.

Then he submitted the animals to the sniff test of self-recognition. He repeated the tests four times a year, at the beginning of each season. Gatti placed within a fence five urine samples containing the scent of each of the four dogs and a “blank sample”, filled only with cotton wool odourless.

The containers were then opened and each dog was individually introduced inside the cage and allowed to freely move for five minutes. The time taken by each dog to sniff each sample was recorded.

The result was surprising: all dogs devoted more time to smell the urine samples of the others rather than their own, and this behaviour confirmed the hypothesis that dogs seem to know exactly their smell, they are less interested in them, and they are therefore self-aware.

The study also found a correlation between the age of the individual dogs and the time spent to sniff the urine samples, a result that strongly supports the idea that self-awareness increases with age, as demonstrated in other species, such as chimpanzees and humans. The study was published in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution.

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