4 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Faces?



4 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Faces?


Have you ever wondered if your dog can recognize your face? It is a curious thought to wonder if when you go and pick your dog up from the groomers or doggy daycare, are they recognizing your face or are they just merely sensing your smell or something else familiar? 

For a long time, it was believed that only humans and other primates were able to engage in the highly-developed skill of facial recognition. However, it turns out that your dog actually can recognize your face and knows who you are based on your facial features. Cool, right?


Sings of a Dog Recognizing Your Facial Features

There are a few simple ways to look for signs of your dog's ability to recognize your face. When your dog recognizes your face, you will see the telltale signs of them being happy and excited. They will wag their tails, shake their butt, move around quickly, and even howl or bark from their excitement and happiness of seeing your face. Some dogs will even paw at you and jump up at your chest or stomach looking for love, attention, and affection. They likely also recognize your scent, voice, and other social and visual cues. 

Studies have found that dogs will watch their owners much more intently than they do strangers. They will watch you more closely and be more focused on your face and presence because they recognize you as one of their own and are much more interested in what you are doing. If you are in a group of people and you find that your dog is watching you much more closely than the other people in the group, you can feel confident in knowing that it's because your dog is able to recognize you and your face!

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice when your dog recognizes your face:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Jumping Up
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

There are even more signs you may notice when your dog recognizes your face:

  • Spinning In Circles With Excitement
  • Wagging His/Her Tail
  • Staring At Your Face
  • Pawing At You For Attention

History of Dogs Recognizes Faces


Dogs have a very special and social relationship with humans and have for thousands of years. Dogs had a lot of social interaction with humans during their domestication process, which is why their connection with humans is so strong. Often they would have more interaction and time with human beings than they would with other dogs. 

One way dogs were able to connect with humans on such a deep level was through their ability to recognize the facial cues of human beings in order to guide their own behavior and actions. Since a dog is able to tell when someone is happy, sad or angry by the person's facial expression and cues, they can then adapt their behavior accordingly. 

For instance, sadness in a human can make the dog more inclined to come over and comfort the person who is feeling down because they can sense it, even visually through facial cues. 

Some studies suggest that a dog's ability to recognize human faces may have been a critical part of their ability to adapt to domesticated life as well. Their ability to recognize human faces are believed to have helped them create a strong attachment to humans. This theory goes all the way back to the time of Darwin, more than 150 years ago, where he believed that animals and humans share evolutionary roots and emotion-related gaze patterns.  

Science Behind Dogs Recognizes Faces


Researchers have found that dogs are able to recognize people's faces very well, even better than some primates can. In fact, dogs can even recognize people in only photo images. When dogs brains were scanned through an MRI, they found the dog's temporal lobe was activated, which is an area of the brain the processes facial recognition. This suggests that dogs are unique and very social animals who can establish very strong bonds and communication with humans in ways that other animals species are not able to. 

Other studies show that dogs can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces, even when it comes to photos of people (like the dog's owner vs. complete strangers). The study revealed that when shown pictures, the dogs held their gaze at the pictures of their owners much longer than they did when it was a picture or an unfamiliar person. This suggests that dogs are indeed able to process their owner's face, both in a picture and in real life. 

Training Dogs to Recognize Faces


The good news is you really don't have to train your dog to recognize your face - they can learn all on their own! Rather, it is really an instinctual trait that they don't need to learn. Once your dog has been with you for a while he or she will learn your face, facial expressions, body language, smell, voice, and so on. Once they have a firm grasp on all of these aspects that make you, you, they will be able to recognize your face quite easily and can distinguish you from the rest of the pack.

If you feel like you want to test their ability or train them more to recognize your face in a photo, this can simply be done at home with a little patience and a lot of treats and belly rubs. 

All you need to do is find a few pictures of neutral people your pup has never met before. You don't want them to recognize any faces that they may have come in contact with before. You will also need to print off an image of yourself. You can line all of the images up with your pictures in the mix, as well. Let your dog examine the photos to see if he can pick out the picture of you. You can tell if your pup recognizes your face if he chooses to stare or gaze at one picture longer than he does the others.

It has been found that dogs are able to pick out an image of their owners or another person they know about 88% of the time. They may also get excited, wag their tails, bark, or a combination of the three if they recognize you in a photo. If your dog is able to recognize you, make sure you reward them with treats and lots of belly rubs.  

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Safety Tips for When Your Dog Recognizes Your Face

  1. Don' reward bad behavior - like excessive barking.
  2. Don't let them jump at you too much to avoid injury.

Written by a Samoyed lover Kayla Costanzo

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/02/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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