TORONTO – A new study suggests that dogs, like humans, are aware and likely to understand the consequences of their actions.
Findings, published in Scientific Reports diary Thursday, say dogs are able to display body consciousness, a manifestation of self-representation.
Self-representation is a concept that describes how you see yourself, and the image you hold in your mind of yourself a construction of your identity.
Part of this concept is body consciousness or physical self-awareness, a knowledge of how your body is physically connected to a space. The study said babies up to five months old are able to recognize their moving feet in the video as an example.
Body awareness, which is the ability to hold information about one’s body as a clear object, in relation to other objects in the world can be considered as one of the basic blocks of self-representation, the study says.
And while it is generally accepted that most species have a basic sense of self-perception, body consciousness is a trait clearly applied to humans, and scientists have tried to find out if even animals possess it.
Dogs have a broad well-proven account of complex cognitive abilities, such as sensitivity and social learning, which makes them an ideal research topic, the study says.
The scientists tested 54 dogs by placing them on a small mat, and giving them commands to pick up and give an item to their owner. Under test conditions, the objects were attached to the mattress or to the ground under the mattress.
In the first test, the researchers attached a ball to the mat and asked the dog to give the ball to their owner. Since the ball was attached to the mattress, the dog would not be able to bring the ball to their owner unless they landed first.
Many of the dogs realized the issue and came down from the floor to complete the task showing a sense of being aware of the body, the study says.
In the second test, the researchers attached the ball to the ground under the mattress and gave the dog commands to give the ball to their owner. This was to test if the dogs realized the difference between an obstacle versus their body is the obstacle.
When the ball was stuck on the ground, dogs left the mat less frequently, which the study suggests that dogs recognize when their body is or is not an obstacle to the command given to them.
The researchers say the dogs showed the first compelling evidence of body awareness through understanding the consequences of self-action in a species where the highest-order self-representation capacity had not previously been found.
The researchers said the study also showed that dogs may be able to record their actions and their consequences – and separate them from other external stimuli.
The researchers believe their findings will help them test body awareness in other moving animal species.
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