Behaviour 2019
Self-representation from an evolutionary perspective: Can dogs recognize their body as an obstacle?
Rita Lenkei, Tamás Faragó, Borbála Zsilák, Péter Pongrácz. Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, , Hungary

Body representation is one of the simpler forms of self-representation. In large-bodied organisms with the capacity of active locomotion in their environment it is vital to be able to overcome or avoid obstacles. To study this phenomenon in dogs we adapted the paradigm what was used in case of children and elephants. Subjects (N=54) had to pick up and hand over an object to their owner, while standing on a small mat. In the Test condition the object was attached to the mat, therefore dogs had to step off from it for successfully accomplishing the task. We included three control conditions, the object was not attached to anywhere (‘Unattached’), the experimenter pulled the mat under the paws of the dog (‘Foot discomfort’), or the object was attached to the ground (‘Attached’). Only a small proportion of the dogs left the mat in the Unattached and Foot Discomfort conditions (5 in both cases). By comparing the Test and Attached condition we found that, dogs came off the mat sooner and more frequently in the Test condition. Our study is the first to find convincing evidence of body awareness in dogs through the understanding of the relationship between their body and external objects.