Dogs recognize familiar faces from images

Dec 18, 2013
Dogs recognize familiar faces from images
Dog eye tracking human face. Credit: Sanni Somppi

So far the specialized skill for recognizing facial features holistically has been assumed to be a quality that only humans and possibly primates possess. Although it's well known, that faces and eye contact play an important role in the communication between dogs and humans, this was the first study, where facial recognition of dogs was investigated with eye movement tracking.

Main focus on spontaneous behavior of dogs

Typically animals' ability to discriminate different individuals has been studied by training the animals to discriminate photographs of familiar and strange individuals. The researchers, led by Professor Outi Vainio at the University of Helsinki, tested dogs' spontaneous behavior towards – if the dogs are not trained to recognize faces are they able to see faces in the images and do they naturally look at familiar and strange faces differently?

"Dogs were trained to lie still during the image presentation and to perform the task independently. Dogs seemed to experience the task rewarding, because they were very eager to participate" says professor Vainio. Dogs' eye movements were measured while they watched facial images of familiar humans and dogs (e.g. dog's owner and another dog from the same family) being displayed on the computer screen. As a comparison, the dogs were shown facial images from dogs and humans that the dogs had never met.

Dogs preferred faces of familiar conspecifics

The results indicate that dogs were able to perceive faces in the images. Dogs looked at images of dogs longer than images of humans, regardless of the familiarity of the faces presented in the images. This corresponds to a previous study by Professor Vainio's research group, where it was found that dogs prefer viewing conspecific faces over human faces.

Dogs fixed their gaze more often on familiar faces and eyes rather than strange ones, i.e. dogs scanned familiar faces more thoroughly.

In addition, part of the images was presented in inverted forms i.e. upside-down. The inverted faces were presented because their physical properties correspond to normal upright facial images e.g. same colors, contrasts, shapes. It's known that the human brain process upside-down images in a different way than normal . Thus far, it had not been studied how dogs gaze at inverted or . Dogs viewed upright faces as long as inverted faces, but they gazed more at the eye area of upright faces, just like humans.

This study shows that the gazing behavior of dogs is not only following the physical properties of images, but also the information presented in the image and its semantic meaning. Dogs are able to see faces in the images and they differentiate familiar and strange from each other. These results indicate that might have skills, similar to humans.

Explore further: Dogs could soon predict behavior of 'their human'

More information: "How dogs scan familiar and inverted faces: an eye movement study." Sanni Somppi, Heini Törnqvist, Laura Hänninen, Christina M. Krause, Outi Vainio Animal Cognition, December 2013. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-013-0713-0

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

See spot see

Mar 02, 2013

(HealthDay)—It's a dog-see-dog world. With no sniffing involved, dogs can recognize the faces of other dogs among the faces of humans and other animal species, according to a new study.

Researchers prove dogs are able to differentiate colors

Jul 25, 2013

A team of researchers in Russia has conducted a series of experiments that prove that dogs are able to distinguish between different colors. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, ...

Dogs know a left-sided wag from a right

Oct 31, 2013

You might think a wagging tail is a wagging tail, but for dogs there is more to it than that. Dogs recognize and respond differently when their fellow canines wag to the right than they do when they wag to ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...