We know that dogs can recognize the emotions we show on our faces, but can they also recognize individual humans. Dogs use their incredible senses of scent and sound to study the world around them. They can easily pinpoint who we are by our scent, but what about recognizing us by our faces alone.
In 2013, researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, set out to discover whether dogs not only recognize their humans in person, but also in photos and television images. They trained 23 pet dogs and 8 kennel dogs to lie still in front of a TV, projecting images, including photos of familiar humans and unfamiliar humans and dogs. The photos were shown normally and upside down. The researchers tracked the dogs’ eye movements to find their response. While the dogs gazed longest at the pictures of other canines, those photos of familiar humans held their eyes longer than unfamiliar humans.
In an earlier study at the University of Padua, Italy, researchers discovered that dogs could even pick out their humans in a crowd by their faces.
Cats are also capable of human facial recognition, but not as well as dogs. Cats are more sensitive to their humans’ touch, scent and vocalization.
I wonder if sighthounds are capable of recognizing their humans’ faces more quickly than other breeds of dogs. But that’s an idea for a different experiment.