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Why won’t my dog look in the mirror?

Why won’t my dog look in the mirror?

I, like much of the population today, enjoy taking selfies. They routinely take up a good chunk of my phone’s storage. I enjoy taking selfies even more when I can capture them together with my pets.

To add something different to the classic full-body selfie, I decided to take a mirror selfie with my together. Much as I tried though, my precious pooch simply wouldn’t pay attention to the mirror long enough for me to get the picture I wanted. Eventually, my arms just got tired and settled for the selfies I could get.

My experience of trying to take some pictures with my pet caused me to wonder about something. Was it normal for a dog to avoid looking at the mirror or is it a form of atypical behavior?

I sought to find the answers myself and now I’m sharing them with you. Read on if you want to learn more about this aspect of your pet’s behavior.

Why Won’t My Dog Look in the Mirror?

If you’re like me and you wondered why your dog doesn’t look at the mirror, rest assured that there’s nothing wrong with your pet. Studies have shown that this is just normal behavior on their part.

For those still curious as to why their pet is so uninterested in their reflection, theories are attempting to explain that. Let’s go over some of those theories in this section of the article.

Disinterest Due to Habituation

The first theory attempting to explain why dogs don’t bother to look in the mirror is because they simply don’t care. Even if they see themselves in the mirror, that means nothing to them. As long as they don’t perceive the image staring back at them as a threat, they will likely not pay that much attention to it.

This article from Scientific American suggests that dogs come to understand mirrors and their reflections through the process of habituation. It’s a process that’s characterized by the subject no longer reacting to a stimulus that they previously found interesting.

It’s possible that your pet was very intrigued by what they saw in the mirror early on. After getting used to it though, the mirror no longer stands out to them. Seeing their reflection no longer fascinates them and so they just ignore it.

What makes this theory so interesting is that it can also explain why dogs seemingly have an evolving attitude towards mirrors.

Early on, your then puppy may have been very interested in what they saw in the mirror. They were probably barking at their reflection and even pouncing at it.

Through habituation, they may come to realize that the reflection they’re seeing is an unimportant element of their daily life. Their interest level could drop because of that. They may be so uninterested that may not even bother to look at the mirror anymore.

Disinterest Due to a Lack of Smell

Next up, we have a theory that suggests that dogs don’t care about mirrors and reflections because a key element is missing. To be more specific, they find what they’re seeing to be uninteresting because it has no smell.

We need to remember that dogs absorb the world around them in a manner unlike ours. They also use their senses of sight, hearing, taste, and touch to sense stimuli, but the sense they rely on the most is their smell. Dogs have an incredible smell of sense and they lean on it to process just about all the stimuli thrown at them.

Now, imagine exposing them to their reflection. They’re looking at something that resembles a fellow dog, but there’s something off because the dog in question has no smell.

From there, the dog may react in one of two ways. According to The Cut, the dog may either attempt to fight the strange, odorless dog or they could ignore it. Your dog may have chosen the latter option.

You may think that a dog reacting to a weird, odorless hound with indifference is strange in and of itself. Then again, they don’t have a lot of options to choose from in that scenario.

Disinterest Due to a Lack of Usefulness

Why do we look at mirrors? Maybe you do so because you want to fix your hair or your shirt collar. Or perhaps there’s an annoying zit close to your lip that you want to check before popping. 

In any case, we look at mirrors because we can make use of them. That may not necessarily be the case for our dogs.

When a dog looks at the mirror, they may fail to see why it’s important. An experiment detailed in that previously linked to Scientific American article hints at this possibility.

For the experiment, dogs were divided into two groups. Both groups were tasked with finding some hidden food in a room where its odor was being masked. One group could use a carefully located mirror to find the food while the other group did not.

Notably, 77 percent of the dogs that were given the mirror ended up finding the food. Meanwhile, 41 percent of the dogs in the other group also managed to track down the location of the food.

The numbers suggest that the dogs in the first group benefited from using the mirror. However, the second group still had a good amount of success. That’s likely because the odors used were not enough to conceal the treats.

The dogs in the first group had more success because they were able to use their eyes and nose. Even so, the groups in the other group were not completely hopeless.

Dogs may be interested in mirrors to some degree, but that may only be true if they have a use for it. Otherwise, they’re content with letting their noses lead the way.

Is It Normal for a Dog Not to Look in the Mirror?

We now have a better understanding of why dogs may have no interest in mirrors and their reflection. It can be a gradual change for them.

Dogs may be very intrigued by mirrors at first. That may eventually change if they see their reflection often enough.

But what if your dog does not look at the mirror at all? Is it normal for them to have no interest in the mirror whatsoever right away?

Yes, your dog displaying no interest at all in the mirror is perfectly normal. It’s as normal as them being interested in the mirror the first time they see it.

When it comes to dogs and mirrors, different reactions can all be considered normal. Displaying disinterest is not surprising at all. Then again, a dog barking at his/her reflection is regarded as normal too.

A dog’s reaction to their reflection will depend in large part on the personality they have. You may witness a great array of reactions because dogs have unique personalities.

Even puppies from the same litter can feature varied reactions.

Don’t worry too much about your dog’s reaction to the mirror or lack thereof. The reaction they feature is just another aspect of the personality you’re getting to know.

Do Dogs See Things in the Mirror the Same Way We Do?

What exactly does a dog see when they look at the mirror? To put it simply, they don’t see the same things we do. That’s because the qualities of our vision vary.

The Colors Reflected

Let’s start with colors.

We see a greater variety of colors compared to our canine companions. Dogs can see blues, violets, and different shades of gray. However, they don’t detect other common colors like red, green, and orange.

Because they don’t see certain colors, they may not see their coat or collar the same way we do. The colors take on a duller and less distinguished quality to them.

The Number of Objects Reflected

Dogs may also not react as quickly to mirrors. That’s because they may not see their reflection right away. Compared to dogs, we can see clearly from a greater distance.

While walking your dog, you may see your reflection in the window of a store across the street. Your pet may not see any reflections from that distance. They will have to move closer to see the reflections.

At a certain distance, the mirror will appear just like a wall to your dog. They will likely not perceive anything different about it.

Your dog’s perception of the mirror is going to change once they get in close though. Dogs have a wider field of vision compared to humans. When they look at the mirror, they will be able to see more objects that are positioned behind them.

The Clarity of the Reflection

The clarity of the reflection can also differ between humans and dogs.

During the day or whenever we’re looking at the mirror in a well-lit room, the reflection we see is clear. The reflection is high-quality and very detailed.

At night or in a dark room, the reflection isn’t as easy to interpret for a lot of us. Some people may struggle to see anything in the mirror if there’s not enough light available.

Dogs don’t struggle with the dark the way we do. They can see their reflection fairly well even in a dark room.

Hopefully, your dog doesn’t bark at their reflection. The last thing you want to hear in the middle of the night is continuous barking coming from one of the dark rooms in your house.

Can Dogs Recognize Themselves in the Mirror?

We know what we’re looking at whenever we stare in the mirror. We recognize ourselves and the way we appear at that point in time.

Are dogs capable of recognizing themselves that way too? Although studies conducted on that matter remain inconclusive, they do hint at the possibility that dogs don’t recognize themselves in the mirror.

Upon looking at the mirror, your dog may understand that another canine is staring back at them. What they don’t understand is that the other dog technically doesn’t exist.

This doesn’t mean that your dog is completely oblivious to how peculiar the situation is. If anything, they likely caught on to that pretty early.

Remember that dogs rely on their sense of smell to identify other dogs. When they discovered that the dog in the mirror had no smell, they were probably spooked.

It’s still unlikely that your dog understands that they are the one showing up in the mirror. With no scent to go by, they simply cannot make that connection.

The good news is that dogs don’t get hung up on the appearance of the strange canine in the mirror. They may focus on it for a few seconds or minutes, but that’s the extent of it. They will quickly shift their attention once something new catches their eye and nose.