Face Recognition in Dogs

An article on Pet Dog Pals recently made me consider how well dogs can recognize human faces in images. What does the world look like through the eyes of dogs? What do they recognize and how do they perceive their surroundings? The growing number of research results enables us to understand the dog and its abilities increasingly better. The extent to which dogs are able to identify people in photographs has now been investigated in an interesting study.

Face recognition in humans

Most people are very good and quick at recognizing faces. Quickly identifying who you are and in what mood is an absolute necessity for social interaction. Even newly born babies show a tendency to pay more attention to faces than to other stimuli of the environment. In the course of our lives we are confronted with so many different faces in different emotional states that the brain even reserves a special area for processing faces.

We also reliably recognize faces in photographs. Those who have no limitations in recognizing faces can quickly identify friends in recent vacation photos and their respective moods. Whether dogs are also capable of this is an exciting question. After all, the close living together with humans has produced numerous special abilities of the four-legged friends. For example, they can detect and distinguish between negative and positive emotional facial expressions of humans.

To answer this question, researchers have investigated whether dogs recognize their owners in photographs. In this respect, some animals have their difficulties. For example, pigeons can recognize different objects presented to them on a two-dimensional photo. If, on the other hand, they are shown the faces of people, they are not able to identify them on two-dimensional photos.

Gate one or two

The subjects for the study consisted of 60 dog-holder pairs. To test the dogs’ abilities, the researchers developed a special test apparatus. On the left and right side of the test apparatus there was a photo, one of the owner and on the other side a photo of a stranger.

After the dogs had entered the test room, the photos on the wall were presented to them at the same time. After 10 seconds, two small curtains opened below the photos at leg level. Behind them stood either the owner or the stranger, matching the photo. The four-legged friends could then decide which of the opened curtains they wanted to go through. The scientists also determined in further passages, for which access the dogs without picture decided. The latter is necessary to find out whether the presented photos alone really have an influence on which access the dog chooses
Without any photos, the dogs without any system randomly chose the left or also the right trapdoor. So it was not that they preferred to access the trap door by means of olfactory information, for example, which led them to the owner. Even if the faces in the photos were not directly facing the dog, they did not often choose the open curtain behind which their owner was standing. However, when the face was directed straight at the dog and with a neutral expression, the dogs seemed to identify their owners. In this case, they significantly often chose to access their owner.

Interestingly, among the dogs tested, the males scored better in this task. A similar effect can be observed in toddlers. In one study, male infants showed better abilities and face recognition than female infants. This effect was reversed in adulthood (source).


According to the results, dogs seem surprisingly able to recognize their owners on photos. However, it is not clear whether they are aware that they are only looking at a two-dimensional image of the face. They may not be able to distinguish the image from a real three-dimensional face. According to previous findings, not many animals seem to possess this ability. It is possible that the long periods of domestication and living together with humans play a role in this. Now many open questions are still waiting to be answered, which the results raise. For example, it would be interesting to know to what extent dogs are able to recognize conspecifics or objects of the environment in photographs.

7 tips for successful dog training

Dog training is a topic that concerns every dog owner. In order for two- and four-legged friends to get along well with each other and for living together to work, certain rules are necessary. In addition, the dog must learn how to behave in traffic, in large crowds and towards other dogs. In a broader sense, the education of dogs also includes learning tricks and solving tasks that keep the dog occupied and entertained. If you follow our 7 tips, you will make the educational work easier for you and your quadruped.

How many rules are necessary?

With the rules of behaviour, which your dog should learn, a healthy average is reasonable. Too many rules can overstrain an animal until it switches off and no longer wants to cooperate. But if your dog can do what he wants, he will not accept you as pack leader. Rules that absolutely must be trained concern safety. For example, your dog cannot judge traffic. Therefore, he must obey commands that ensure he is not involved in an accident. In addition, certain rules are important for living together. After all, two- and four-legged friends want to get along well together in their shared home and have as few conflicts as possible. You should therefore teach your dog as early as possible which areas of the home he has no business being in and which behaviour is unacceptable.

Age-appropriate dog training

In order for your training efforts to be successful, you must take into account the age of your dog. Puppies should learn a lot, but they are very playful. Therefore, use the play instinct at this stage to teach your dog something. You should keep the learning and exercise phases short. Dogs in puberty change their character and are often unfocused. Here it is important that you remain patient and consistent. Adult dogs are personalities. They have their own rules, limits and preferences that need to be respected. Therefore it is important that you know your adult quadruped well and that you take care of him during the upbringing. Experienced and intelligent dogs love new challenges and experiences.

Stay consistent

Even if it is sometimes difficult, you should try to be consistent in your upbringing. Once you have established your rules, your dog will only accept them if you show by consistency that you mean it. If you stop begging at the table ten times and then make an exception, conflicts are inevitable. Because he will test how often he can get his way. With some dogs it is especially important to show consistency. Young dogs, for example, often react with uncertainty when their owners behave inconsistently. In the long run this can lead to anxiety or aggression. Dominant animals also need a consistent owner. Here it is important that you establish your role as pack leader.

Rewards for educational success

In dog training, you work with positive and negative reinforcement (more here) – desired behaviour is rewarded, and you react to undesired behaviour with rejection. Reward does not mean feeding your dog with treats all the time. Dogs also enjoy praise, petting and other positive reactions from your side. If you already know your four-legged friend well, you will know which gifts he particularly likes. Show him clearly through your behaviour and voice when he has done something well. As a reward, you should use treats sparingly and carefully. Healthy treats are best. Remember to include the reward treats in your general diet plan.

Variety and fun in dog training

Besides the reward, sufficient variety is an important factor for educational success. Monotonous methods lead to boredom and finally to listlessness, not only in humans. You will have much more success in dog training if you always try something new and offer your four-legged friend new stimuli. Some breeds also demand more from their owner in terms of variety than others. For example, if you have a bright Border Collie or another herding dog, you will have to come up with quite a lot to keep him occupied. These breeds were bred to take over herding tasks independently and to work with the herd all day long. Thanks also to the fact that your dog develops further. What is still fun for a young animal can bore an older and more experienced animal.

How to communicate with your dog properly

The most important thing in dog training is a functioning communication. Your dog must listen to you and understand you. Dogs are pack animals and used to communicate with their conspecifics. In living together with humans, they have learned to interpret human signals in their own way. Timing is very important. You have to react immediately to the behaviour you want to reinforce or reduce. Otherwise, your dog will not be able to make the connection between his behaviour and your reaction. Always try to give clear signals. Your dog responds to commands, gestures, tone of voice and your general mood. If your command says one thing and your gesture says another, you are giving conflicting signals. Then your four-legged friend doesn’t know what he should really do. If you say “no” and at the same time signal inattention or disinterest, you risk that your ban will not be taken seriously.

Humanization and violence are no-goes in dog training

Two things have no place in dog training: humanisation and violence. Even if dogs have been domesticated for a long time, they react instinctively and immediately to a situation. They do not think morally or logically. Your dog feels most comfortable if you accept its animal characteristics and treat it accordingly. You should also think about how you react to unwanted behaviour. You don’t have to be rude to train your dog. You can also show him by your behaviour or an energetic command that you disagree with something. In the event of repeated or persistent misconduct, a specialist should be consulted. He can give advice on how to reconcile the coexistence between man and dog.


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