Dogs can recognise the
faces of familiar people and canine pals, a new study finds.
The recognition of facial
features is a specialised skill previously thought to be unique to people and
possibly other primates, the University of Helsinki researchers said.
It's long been known that
faces and eye contact play an important role in communication between people
and dogs. However, the new study is believed to be the first to use eye
movement tracking to investigate the facial recognition ability of dogs.
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Eager to participate
The eye movements of the
dogs in the study were assessed while they were shown photos on a computer
screen of people and dogs. These included images of their owners or another dog
in the same family, and images of unfamiliar people and dogs.
The dogs scanned the
familiar faces more thoroughly than the unfamiliar faces, which indicates that
they were able to distinguish between the faces, according to the study
published in the journal Animal Cognition.
"Dogs were trained to
lie still during the image presentation and to perform the task independently.
Dogs seemed to experience the task [as] rewarding, because they were very eager
to participate," study leader Outi Vainio said in a university news
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Photos of other dogs
The dogs had not been
trained to recognise faces, so the findings suggest that they have a natural
ability to tell the difference between faces and may have facial recognition
skills similar to people, the researchers said.
The study dogs also looked
at photos of other dogs longer than photos of people, regardless of whether
they knew them or not. This echoes a previous study by the same group of
researchers that found that dogs prefer looking at other dogs' faces over
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