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Do Dogs Recognize Human Faces?

Do Dogs Recognize Human Faces?


As a dog owner and a veterinarian, I can attest that my dog can recognize my face. Classic example? My dog, Milo, patiently sits on the sideline of my ultimate Frisbee games, while I play. As I start to walk off the field to sub out, I’ll watch him critically scan the field and then start to run toward the field to see if it’s me about to walk off. The only other time he starts to do this? When another Asian female is walking off the field. Milo will partially run out, recognize that it’s not me from 20 yards away, and walk back to the sideline.

But up to this point, veterinarians and pet owners have never had proof that dogs were capable of having “facial recognition function” that allows them to process human faces. Well, there’s finally scientific proof that dogs are as smart as we pet owners always thought they were!

New science shows dogs know faces
According to an article by Sarah Griffiths of Mail Online, recent scientific research from Emory University’s Department of Psychology, found that dogs are able to recognize human and dog faces. Previously, this function has only been demonstrated in humans and primates. While we dog owners have always thought this to be true, this scientific evidence was difficult to find. With the help of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, scientists at Emory University were able to identify a “face-selection” region in part of the brain – specifically the caudate nucleus in the brain. This study used an fMRI scanner to tests dogs’ response to a static and video image of faces on a screen while in the scanner.

Griffiths reports, these dogs had to be uniquely trained to stay motionless within the scanner – as traditionally, the use of MRI requires general anesthesia when used for veterinary purposes (that’s because it takes several minutes of scanning and the patient has to be perfectly motionless during the procedure). These dogs were also uniquely trained to respond to 2D images on screen, which was challenging as dogs don’t typically interact with 2D images (that’s why your dog doesn’t necessarily get excited when seeing a photo or a reflection in a mirror). Unfortunately, the sample size of this study was very small – only 6 dogs were able to be trained adequately. Overall, this study found that dogs’ did respond to static images of faces while in the scanner. Neuroscientists dubbed the face-processing region the “dog face area” (DFA). This may explain some evolutionary questions of the relationship between man and his best friend, the dog. Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, believes that the temporal region of the brain has developed through cognitive evolution and allows dogs to pick up on subtle human social cues.

As a dog owner, what’s this study mean to you? It’s proof of what you already knew — your dog does recognize your mug and love you for it…

[Next, Learn if you can tell what your dog is feeling]

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


Do Dogs Recognize Owners Faces? Study Reveals Truth

It has officially been proven that dogs do in fact recognize their owners faces, as well as facial expressions, revealed in a study led by Paolo Mongillo from the University of Padua in Italy. Although this may not be a new idea to some, this is the first time an experiment has been conducted to prove the notion. The team of scientists conducted the experiment to measure a few things how much the dogs prefer to gaze at and follow their owner rather than a stranger, how dogs have difficulty recognizing their owners when their faces are covered, and how the age of dogs plays a part in the recognition.

Dr. Mongillo explained that, although many researchers have studied how dogs interact with humans, no one had yet investigated how the animals focused on one person in preference to another – or just how much companion dogs “prefer” their owners, such was the reason for inventing this experiment.

The first part of the experiment involved a dog and its owner, as well as someone unfamiliar to the dog. “We instructed the owner and the other person to walk across the empty room several times,” explained the scientist, “the people walked in opposite directions, so they crossed many times in front of the dog and we measured how long the dog looked at one person versus another.” The team of researchers then instructed both people to leave the room through separate doors, allowing the dog to then approach a door of its choosing. This process was repeated for many sets of dogs and their owners. Dr Mongillo revealed that most of the dogs gazed at their owners for most of the time and then chose to wait by the door of its owner. He described this as an “expected” result, but something that no one has actually measured before.

During the second phase of the experiment, which was conducted to further prove the dogs recognition of its owner, both the owner and the unfamiliar person were asked to cover their heads, allowing only their bodies to be seen by the dog. The process was repeated as in the first phase of the experiment, where both people walked across the empty room many times in front of the dog. Not surprisingly, the dogs were much less attentive to their owners, proving in a measurable way that dogs rely on the faces of their owners in order to recognize them (provided no sounds are made).

The third phase of the experiment involved dogs of a variety of ages to show what part age plays in the recognition of their owners faces. The study concluded that “aged” dogs (seven years and older) were less able to focus on their owner and also were less likely to choose the owner’s door. “There have been studies to show that dog ageing is similar to human ageing in terms of cognitive impairment,” said Dr Mongillo, leading to the fact that studying ageing in dogs could help our knowledge of human as well as animal age-related diseases.


Dogs Recognize Familiar Faces

Dogs Recognize Familiar Faces from Images

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 images — 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 facial images. Thus far, it had not been studied how dogs gaze at inverted or familiar faces. 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 faces from each other. These results indicate that dogs might have facial recognition skills, similar to humans.

Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki) (2013, December 18).

Dogs recognize familiar faces from images. ScienceDaily.


Dogs’ brains ‘not hardwired’ to respond to human faces

Study of brain activity shows no difference when dogs see back or front of a head

New study suggests dogs do not rely strongly on faces when it comes to communication. Photograph: Wayne Neal / Alamy/Alamy

New study suggests dogs do not rely strongly on faces when it comes to communication. Photograph: Wayne Neal / Alamy/Alamy

Last modified on Tue 6 Oct 2020 04.36 BST

Dog owners might love their pet’s endearing puppy dog eyes and cute furry features, but it turns out the doggy brain is just as excited by the back of our heads as the front.

For despite having evolved facial expressions that tug on the heartstrings of owners, researchers have found that unlike humans, dogs do not have brain regions that respond specifically to faces.

“It’s amazing dogs do so well when it comes to reading emotions and identify from faces, despite the fact that they seem not to have a brain designed for having a focus on [them],” said Dr Attila Andics, co-author of the study from Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary.

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Andics and colleagues report how they scanned the brains of 20 family dogs, including labradors and border collies, and 30 humans with each shown six sequences of 48 videos of either the front or the back of a human or dog head.

The team found particular regions of the dog’s brain showed differing activity depending on the species shown, with a greater response to dog videos. However, there was no difference in any region when dogs were shown a human or dog face compared with the back of its head.

By contrast, regions of the human brain showed different activity depending whether a face or the back of a head was shown, with faces generally generating a stronger response.

A small subset of these regions also showed a difference between species, in general showing a stronger response to humans.

Andics said the further analysis showed the dog brain was primarily focused on whether the animal was looking at a dog or a human, whereas the human brain was mainly focused on whether there was a face.

While previous work has suggested that dogs have separate areas of the brain for processing human and dog faces, Andics said the new results suggest these studies might be picking up on responses to other differences in the images, such as the breed of dog.

Andics said the new results suggested dogs did not rely strongly on faces when it comes to communication – but that did not mean dogs completely ignored them. Rather, he said, dog brains were not designed to specifically focus on faces, something that might be linked to the animals taking in many body cues.

Prof Sophie Scott, director of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said it was known that different networks in the human brain processes different aspects of information in faces. But the study suggests the canine brain works differently.

“The dog face system just goes ‘it’s a dog or a human’ and it doesn’t really care about the faces,” she said, noting the findings contrast to research showing both dogs and humans have particular brain regions involved in processing voices.

The results, Scott added, suggests dogs may be rely less on faces than other information. “One of the main ways dogs know who their friends are and how they are doing is their smell,” she said.

But Dr Daniel Dilks, an expert in the human visual cortex from Emory University, said the study did not conclusively prove there was no face-specific brain region in dogs. “The finding of a [brain] region in dogs [that only responds to images of dogs] is intriguing, but only 50% of the dogs tested showed such a region,” he added. “It will be important to understand why half of the dogs exhibit such a cortex, while the other half does not.”


Would My Dog Recognize Me in a Picture?

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Perched high above the fireplace and right below the flat screen TV is a row of photographs of friends, family and you. Your smart-alecky brother who's visiting for the weekend decides to take down the family picture you took during last year's vacay at the beach. He teases you about your claim that your beloved Boopsie is so smart that he can recognize you in that photo.

But can Boopsie really do this?

Beth Strickler, DVM of Veterinary Behavior Solutions, in northeast Tennessee, says the question is really two parts: Can a dog tell the difference between the appearance of various people or animals and can they recognize that information in a stationary, two-dimensional image (such as a photo)?

The answer to both of those questions, she concludes, is yes -- under the right circumstances. Dogs can distinguish between different people based on the person's appearance at that time, meaning that sometimes a dog can identify his owner's

head in the photo. But if in another photo his owner's head is blocked, the animal might have a problem figuring out who she is.

Research does show that dogs can identify a familiar owner in a photograph. In a study published in the Journal of Vision, 12 pure-bred beagles and 12 domestic cats were given individual handlers who worked with them two hours a day for six months. Then they were given a visual test to recognize the face of their handler versus a non-handler. The result? The dogs chose the face of their handlers 88.2 percent of the time, while the cats chose their handlers 54.5 percent of the time.

These same test pooches were even able to identify the face of an animal that lived with them. In fact, they chose the familiar animal more often than an unfamiliar animal. The study found that dogs chose the face of a familiar dog 85 percent of the time, while the felines chose the face of a familiar feline 91 percent of the time.

However, most dogs don't depend solely on their vision to recognize familiar people and other animals. Dr. Strickler says that's because their other senses are so well developed that many may rely more heavily on smell and hearing. This is especially typical in "scent hounds" and dogs that have a lot of fur on their faces.

Dr. Strickler says some of her dog patients have such a clear image of their owners' appearance in their mind that they can't recognize them if they change their image. In other words, if an owner cuts her hair or wears a uniform instead of her everyday clothing, then the dog will more than likely not be able to identify his owner in a picture.

She tells the story of a client who had a dog for several years. "He went into the bathroom and shaved his facial hair, and when he came out a few minutes later, the dog did not recognize him and responded aggressively to him," she says. "The dog did not relax and interact with him in the same way until his facial hair regrew."

So, if you're going on an extended business trip or family emergency, will being Skyped in or watching home videos help your pooch remember you? We know that dogs can identify their owners based on sight and sound, so it makes sense that they would know them in a video, right? Not necessarily. Dr. Strickler says that dogs don't have the same ability to fuse the flickering light that makes a video image as humans do. Therefore, the image would appear jerky. However, what might help them in a video is hearing the sound of their owners' voices.


Watch the video: Can animals recognize human faces? Ft. ARTexplains