A Dog Recognizes Its Own Species

See Spot Spot Spot

Based on the strength of other research I’ve criticized self-styled gurus who pretend to act like animals. They may be fooling themselves and their gullible followers but they are not fooling the dog.

This study finds that  even on a computer monitor, a dog can tell the difference between a dog, a human or another animal. This study also supports other studies into animal thinking showing that dogs can put objects into categories.

Dogs join humans, macaques, some birds, and sheep as species that can recognize themselves – the amazing thing is that all these other animals look alike while dogs show the greatest diversity of any other species.  And this inside look into the animal mind comes thanks to clicker training, the training method used on the dogs.

The dog doesn’t see you as the alpha leader, the top dog, and he doesn’t think you are a moose. You are a human, start acting like one.

Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris)

In most social interactions, an animal has to determine whether the other animal belongs to its own species. This perception may be visual and may involve several cognitive processes such as discrimination and categorization. Perceptual categorization is likely to be involved in species characterized by a great phenotypic diversity. As a consequence of intensive artificial selection, domestic dogs, Canis familiaris, present the largest phenotypic diversity among domestic mammals. The goal of our study was to determine whether dogs can discriminate any type of dog from other species and can group all dogs whatever their phenotypes within the same category. Nine pet dogs were successfully trained through instrumental conditioning using a clicker and food rewards to choose a rewarded image, S+, out of two images displayed on computer screens. The generalization step consisted in the presentation of a large sample of paired images of heads of dogs from different breeds and cross-breeds with those of other mammal species, included humans. A reversal phase followed the generalization step. Each of the nine subjects was able to group all the images of dogs within the same category. Thus, the dogs have the capacity of species discrimination despite their great phenotypic variability, based only on visual images of heads.

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10 thoughts on “A Dog Recognizes Its Own Species

  1. It is surprising on some level because the dogs vary so much in physical being, but on the other hand, seems to explain why my dogs would intently watch a dog show, and react aggressively to the TV when pitbulls were showing. I know this is a stretch from the study with computer models, but it always amazed me none the less. I felt they were differentiating dogs they liked from dogs they despised.

    • My last dog preferred white dogs with spots, I assume because that is how most of his littermates looked. He gravitated towards the other herding-types though his play style was very different, having been socialised with a pit bull. One hilarious moment was when we were at a convention with lots of people in costume and a guy walked by dressed as a dalmation. Kumo had been somewhat interested in the other dog costumes, but when he saw the giant spotted one, he immediately play bowed and tried to run over. Cutest thing ever.

  2. I agree! I mean, I didn’t need a scientific study to tell me that my dogs can recognize other dogs (and therefore recognize that I am NOT a dog). All I need to do is watch any movie/TV show with dogs in it and my dogs will run to the TV whining and/or reacting (depending on the situation). They don’t do that with other animals, just dogs. My dad even put a cue to it for his dog, “Is there a puppy on TV?” 🙂

  3. I’m also curious about how dogs recognize other dogs of the same breed — or at least similar appearances. My Basenji reacts quite strongly to other B’s, for example. Met a woman at the park today who also had to drag her snarling dog away from mine because her dog apparently “hates all Basenjis.” But humans are the ones thinking in terms of breeds, not dogs — so what’s going on in their minds when they’re not just identifying the same species, but the same breed? Hmm…

  4. It’s funny; Kyuss reacts to dogs on the screen as well. I remember watching a documentary on the wolves in Yellowstone and I swear Kyuss watched the whole thing with me.

    The only other animal I’ve seen him react to on the TV is a cow. But he really loves cows LOL.

    As for breed recognition; Kyuss seems to love other Dobermans as well, although he pretty much loves all dogs. When we’re with other dobermans though, it’s almost as if he plays differently with them. He tends to me more mouthy vs. with other breeds.
    Maybe it has something to do with his young life experiences with the litter.

  5. My dog does understand the difference between me and another dog… Although i play with my dog and act like one sometimes, I can tell she knows I am not actually a dog.

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