Researchers have long debated whether dogs and other non-human animals are self aware – that is, do they recognize themselves? And although dogs haven’t done so well on past tests performed by researchers, they excelled in a new pup-centric study performed recently at Barnard College.

The bottom line, say researchers? It looks like our dogs are indeed self aware.

It seems that previously scientists may have been barking up the wrong tree for an answer to the question of canine self awareness. You see, many previous tests measured dogs in ways that would be more appropriate for humans and other primates, such as self recognition in a mirror.

“While domestic dogs, Canis familiaris, have been found to be skillful at social cognitive tasks and even some meta-cognitive tasks, they have not passed the test of mirror self-recognition (MSR),” lead researcher Dr. Alexandra Horowitz said in the recent report.

But sight isn’t necessarily a dog’s strength. The researchers at Barnard College instead built on previous methods performed last year by Professor Roberto Cazzolla Gatti of the Biological Institute of the Tomsk State University in Russia. Cazzolla Gatti created a “sniff test” to evaluate a dog’s self recognition by use of their keen sense of smell. His research hypothesized self cognition in dogs and the new research confirmed this: “Dogs distinguish between the olfactory ‘image’ of themselves when modified: investigating their own odour for longer when it had an additional odour accompanying it than when it did not. Such behaviour implies a recognition of the odour as being of or from ‘themselves’,” stated Cazzolla Gatti’s report.

In simple terms? It seems dogs recognize their own odor.

More research needs to be done, but this is an exciting advancement into understanding man’s best friend better. Previously, humans have held the popular belief that we – perhaps along with other great apes – are the only animals capable of self-recognition, so this type of research could shift the way we think about the mental capabilities of animals. The findings could also challenge the way researchers design future cognitive tests for non-human animals.

Read more about the study here.