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How do they know themselves? March 7, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s so easy for humans to recognize themselves as human. We see our families, our fellow humans, every day. We see our own human faces in the mirror. But what about dogs who have never seen a mirror, have been separated from their parents and siblings at 8 weeks old, have been sent to live in a home without other dogs?

This fascinates our friend Ben, especially watching the identification of our current beloved dog, our black German shepherd, Shiloh. It’s not like Shiloh is looking in a mirror or being told “I’m a German shepherd.” Instead, we adopted her as a puppy and she’s grown up with our neighbors’ dogs and the dogs she met in puppy playschool and her training classes. There was not a single other German shepherd in the bunch.

Shiloh loves all the other dogs, though let’s just say that her love isn’t always reciprocated. But apparently, she understood that the other dogs were playmates but ultimately had nothing to do with her. When she met a senior German shepherd, and only then, she became completely submissive.

This wasn’t limited to her, as I saw when we took Shiloh to the vet’s for a checkup. A German shepherd puppy was there for his or her checkup as well. The puppy barked up a storm and attempted to dominate every other dog in the waiting room, despite his diminutive size compared to theirs. But when we brought Shiloh in, this behavior stopped immediately, and the puppy kowtowed to Shiloh, acknowledging her as top dog. We’d seen Shiloh do this herself when, and only when, she encountered a mature German shepherd.

How on earth do they know? Separated from their families two months after their birth, with no mirrors or other aids to show what they look like and what their fellow breed members look like, how can they immediately understand that this dog, out of the millions of dogs, is like them, is connected to them?

Could we humans really recognize each other under similar circumstances? Maybe, but I doubt it.



1. Huma - March 7, 2013

Might be the specific smell of GS from when they were with their mothers. Humans deny the humanity of other for completely economic reasons—-how pathetic!

Yes, quite right. Human slaves and animal sacrifice. Horrifying!

2. BaxterBiscuits - March 7, 2013

Fascinating observations. DNA and sniffers far more capable than ours 🙂

Ha! Thanks, BaxterBiscuits! No doubt you’re right. It just stuns me that they can tell their own breed apart from others without ever having seen themselves.

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