Do Dogs Think They Are Human?

dog sitting on couch with human

Dogs do not think they are human. Sight and smell both help dogs distinguish between species. Dogs realize humans are not dogs and dogs are not humans. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t view you as part of their family. Dogs are pack animals and still view you as the alpha of the pack. 

As a dog owner, it’s completely natural to wonder about what your dog is feeling or thinking. What does he think about this food? Does he like snuggling or playing fetch more? Does he love me, or am I just the thing that feeds him?

If you are reading this article, then you may be particularly curious as to how your four-legged friend thinks of you. 

Humans easily distinguish dogs as different species with different emotions, mindsets, and behaviors. But are dogs able to distinguish that as well? 

Do dogs know we’re different? or do they think we’re the same species? Do they think we are dogs or that they are human?

Dog psychology is a fascinating subject, and these are all exciting questions to bring up. This article will go over the basics of how dogs view humans, themselves, and the relationship between the two species.

Do Dogs Think They Are Human? Do They Think Humans Are Dogs?

To answer this question, we need to determine if dogs can discern between different species. The truth is that dogs do know humans are not dogs. 

They know we are not some hairless, two-legged, weird-looking canine. They can quickly tell that we are something different. We’re not prey, not predators, but friends who happen to look and act differently than they do.

How do dogs know this? Well, it’s not exactly the same way that humans discern different species. Dogs don’t have a scientific method or the same analyzing brains that we do. 

However, they have great senses of sight and smell that help them differentiate dogs from other species.

Sight

Dogs can easily discern that we are not dogs just by looking at us. This may not seem like a big deal, but dogs aren’t humans. 

Dogs usually don’t meet many other dogs within their lifetime. Humans see thousands of humans throughout their lives, and therefore have plenty of data to help them discern who is human and who isn’t. Dog’s don’t. And yet, they easily can tell that a human is a human, a cat is a cat, and a dog is a dog.

This is incredible because there are currently hundreds of dog breeds out there, and very few dogs will interact with many breeds that are different from them. 

During a 2013 Scientific American study, researchers showed dogs pictures of various species. These pictures included many breeds of dogs, including breeds that each test subject dog had never seen before. 

The dogs could discern just from these pictures which animals were dogs and which ones weren’t. The study has been pivotal in understanding how dogs distinguish themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Smell

So dogs can figure out which animals are dogs just by looking at them. Maybe that doesn’t sound so impressive because humans can do that too. 

However, sight is not the only way that a dog distinguishes another dog. Dogs are known for their keen sense of smell, which comes in handy for this situation.

Their sense of smell not only helps them seek out food or find important objects. That powerful nose also helps dogs determine who is a dog and who isn’t.

You know how dogs enjoy smelling the rear end of every other dog they meet? They aren’t doing that specifically to embarrass you. Believe it or not, there is a lot of important information in a dog’s bottom area. 

By sniffing each other’s rear ends, they learn all sorts of information about each other such as gender, health problems, and even species. In other words, your dog can determine by the smell of your bottom that you are not a dog.

So What Do They Think Of Us?

If dogs know that we are different, then how do they view their relationship with us? This is another fascinating topic to explore. 

To understand what a dog thinks about the world around them, scientists use an MRI machine to analyze the brains’ reaction to various smells. 

As mentioned before, dogs have a great sense of smell, which they use to navigate the world around them. Various parts of a dog’s brain will light up in reaction to certain smells. When a dog smells his owner, the reward center of his brain lights up. Just the scent of his owner brings a dog pure joy.

Furthermore, studies show that dogs exhibit a “secure base effect” with their owners. The secure base effect describes when a child uses their parent as a safe base when exploring the world. 

For example, if a parent and child are at the park and the child begins to explore, they will keep looking back at the parent to make sure they are still there. This shows that the child views the parent as a secure base in an environment that is strange and new. 

The same thing happens between a dog and its owner. Even if the dog is having a great time with other dogs at the park, he will often look back at his owner to make sure they are there.

So what do dogs think of us? They think of us as friends and family. We may be very different species, but the bond between dogs and humans is strong. 

How Dogs Think Of Themselves

Dogs can differentiate between species through both sight and smell. That means they realize that humans are not dogs and dogs are not humans. But this leads to another interesting question: what do dogs think of themselves?

The Mirror Test

To answer this question, scientists have created a specific test to measure self-awareness in animals, called the mirror test. 

In these tests, the animal is marked, with either paint or a sticker, while anesthetized. When the animal wakes up, he is put in front of a mirror. If the animal notices the mark in the mirror and tries to take it off of himself, this shows that he has self-awareness. 

The animal realizes that he is looking at a reflection of himself and that reflection shows that he has a new mark on his body. If the animal does nothing or acts as though the reflection is another animal, he fails the mirror test.

While many animals pass this test, dogs do not. Some dogs do nothing when they see the mirror. Some think they are looking at another dog. 

Whatever the case, dogs don’t recognize themselves in the mirror and don’t bother to take off the mark.  

How does this answer our question? Failing this test shows that dogs can’t conceptualize the reflection in the mirror as them. 

Because of this, it is assumed that dogs don’t think much about themselves in general. They can differentiate the species around them, but they don’t think much about who they are in relation to these species. 

They just live in the present moment, enjoying treats, cuddles, and long walks. They don’t think much about their existence or identity.

Dogs Live in the Present

Dogs do not think they are human and recognize that humans are not dogs. This is not a bad thing, though, nor does it mean your dog is dumb. 

Like many animals, dogs live solely in the present. They focus on eating good food, having fun at the park, and bonding with their favorite humans. 

They don’t worry about how they fit into the grand scheme of things. They just live to have a good time. Though your dog may recognize that you are a human, he still knows that you are family and loves being around you.

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