Test the mental powers of dogs and cats. It takes some time, but inquiring minds want to know: which animal is really smarter?
Testing animals to see how intelligent they are is tricky—so many things can influence an experiment. But sometimes it’s fun just to put yourself in a scientist’s shoes. This test might help you determine whether your pet is self-aware, but it is really designed to give you an idea of the challenges scientists face.
We did this experiment with an assortment of pets: a dog, a cat, and a rabbit. We included our rabbit because she seemed so, well, smart. This version is for a cat and dog, but feel free to use other pets.
- Baking Soda
- Dog Biscuits
- Cat treats
- An assistant (optional)
- Put the mirror upright on the floor.
- Place a few dogs treats in front of the mirror. Have your assistant (or yourself) pet the dog in front of the mirror when it starts eating the treats. Repeat this step with the cat and the cat treats.
- Do steps 2 and 3 once a day, for each animal, for five days. Keep notes of your observations.
- On the fifth day, have your assistant put baking soda (if your pet has light-colored fur, mix food coloring with the baking soda) on his hand before he pats the dog. When patting the dog, make sure there’s a clear powder mark visible on the animal’s head.
- Watch the dog and cat closely, does either one look at the mirror, try to shake off the mark, or rub it with its paw?.
The treats in front of the mirror encourage the animals to become familiar with the mirror. If the animal has some sense of itself, it comes to recognize itself in the mirror (with reinforcement from the treats and petting).
The mark is placed on the head because to see the mark, the animal has to look in the mirror. If the dog or cat does that, maybe it knows itself. Or maybe it’s a coincidence.
The mirror test has been used with lots of animals. So far, scientists believe that only adult great apes and humans over the age of two consistently have an understanding of self-awareness, based on this kind of test. Recent mirror experiments with dolphins, however, have scientists including these marine mammals in the self-aware club.
In our experiment, the dog never ever looked in the mirror. In fact, she seemed to willfully ignore the mirror. It appeared to us, however, that the cat took a good long look at the mark. The rabbit really surprised us, she seemed to hover around the mirror a lot whether there was food there or not and hover even more once she had a mark. Then again, she might have just thought she was making new bunny friends