Dogs are known as man’s best friend, and as a dog owner, you are likely used to your dog greeting you excitedly when you get home. Perhaps you have even wondered if your dog is recognizing you by sight or smell. Up until recently, scientists believed that the specific brain mechanisms needed to recognize faces were possessed only by human beings and some primates. However, researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland now have evidence that dogs can recognize faces as well.
For the study, Professor Outi Vainio and his research team placed a group of dogs in front of a computer screen showing changing faces, and monitored the dogs’ eye movements to determine where they were focusing. The team found that dogs were more likely to look directly into the eyes of their owners when their pictures flashed up on screen, even if the photos were presented upside-down. When the dogs saw photos of strangers, their eyes roamed all around the face, suggesting they did not recognize them. Interestingly, it seemed that overall, the dogs spent more time looking at photos of other dogs, regardless of if the they were familiar to them or not.
Overall, the study demonstrated that the gazing behavior of dogs is not limited to following the physical properties of the images. It indicated that dogs are able to both determine information presented in the image and its meaning. They can both see human faces and differentiate between known and unknown faces. While this is only one study and additional research will be needed, these groundbreaking results indicate that dogs have facial recognition similar to those of humans. Therefore, the next time your dog greets you at the front door, you can be assured they are happy to see you, specifically.