Your Pet Dog Could Recognize Your Face From An Image
December 18, 2013

Your Pet Dog Could Recognize Your Face From An Image

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A dog might be a little better at recognizing its owner’s face from an image than previously thought, according to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Researchers tracked the eye movements of canines to investigate whether man’s best friend was able to recognize a familiar face from an image. The team wanted to determine if dogs were able to see faces in images and whether they naturally look at familiar and strange faces differently.

The study involved a total of 23 pet dogs and eight kennel dogs, which 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,” Professor Outi Vainio, leader of the study from the University of Helsinki, said in a statement.

The researchers measured the dogs’ eye movements while they watched facial images of familiar humans and dogs being displayed on the computer screen. The dogs were also shown images of dogs and humans they had never met.

Results from the study indicate dogs were able to perceive faces in the images. The team said all dogs preferred conspecific faces and showed great interest in the eye area, suggesting they perceived images representing faces.

“Dogs fixated at the upright faces as long as the inverted faces, but the eye area of upright faces gathered longer total duration and greater relative fixation duration than the eye area of inverted stimuli, regardless of the species (dog or human) shown in the image,” the researchers wrote in the journal. “Personally, familiar faces and eyes attracted more fixations than the strange ones, suggesting that dogs are likely to recognize conspecific and human faces in photographs. The results imply that face scanning in dogs is guided not only by the physical properties of images, but also by semantic factors.”

Dogs looked at the images of other dogs longer than images of humans, regardless of the familiarity of the faces presented in the images. A previous study by Vainio found dogs prefer viewing conspecific faces over human faces.

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

“In conclusion, in a free-viewing task, dogs seem to target their fixations at naturally salient and familiar items. Facial images were generally more attractive for pet dogs than kennel dogs, but living environment did not affect conspecific preference or inversion and familiarity responses, suggesting that the basic mechanisms of face processing in dogs could be hardwired or might develop under limited exposure,” the team wrote in the journal.

This wasn’t the first study to determine whether or not dogs were able to recognize a familiar face. In 2010, researchers observed how dogs stared and followed their owners more than a stranger, showing dogs were capable of facial recognition.

Another study, published in the same journal back in February, also found dogs were able to recognize other dogs on a computer screen. The group determined dogs were able to discriminate between species and form a “dog” category in spite of the variability within the dog species.