6 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Their Owners?



6 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Their Owners?


Anything to do with our wild and wacky woofers seems to inspire questions that great minds endeavor to answer. The mere fact that dogs are being talked about is great news, as back in the day, they didn’t get a lot of consideration as thinking, emotive beings. 

It occurred to science that pooches are worthy of a look as no animals have ever gotten as close to humans as the Canis lupus familiaris. That, folks, is the fancy name for your Bichon, Pointer or Labrador that greets you every day with a smile and a woof. It’s easy for us humans to recognize friends and family but can our dogs tell who we are? Want to know how they do it? Go grab a coffee and read on.


Signs a Dog Recognizes Their Owner

How does your dog recognize you when you pick them up from the vet? We are told they have a short-term memory, so isn’t it possible they could forget us if we are parted for too long?

Bruno, your Boxer, woofs at the sound of your voice and when the vet nurse brings him out, he goes ballistic, jumping up and licking your face. Is he just happy to be out of there or is it the sight of you that has his tail in a spin?

No one on earth greets you the way your doggy pal does. Like a long lost friend, they bestow kisses - wagging their tail with might. Our mutts have no inhibitions and don’t care who’s watching them show love. Bruno is beside himself, pacing and panting while his master pays the bill. He barks his goodbyes and they’re off to home, where Bruno play-bows with his toys.

If you’re a virtual newbie to the secrets of canine senses, you’ll be blown away to learn they can smell a pizza getting crispy a few blocks away.  Dogs have super-nova senses that some call a "sixth sense".

Their hearing can hone in on an earthquake under the ground while their legendary noses can categorize scents. Why do you think there are so many sniffer dogs at the airport and at schools? It’s not about the training so much as the natural scent tracking skills they’ve had since birth. When Bruno was at the vet's, he recognized his owner's voice, face, and stinky aftershave. 

Body Language

Signs a dog can identify their owner include:<br/>

  • Barking
  • Panting
  • Jumping Up
  • Pacing
  • Sniffing
  • Licking
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs a pooch recognizes their pet-parent are:<br/>

  • Excited Behavior
  • Reacting When They Come Home
  • Dropped Ears

History of Dogs Getting Close to Humans


Dogs didn’t magically appear out of nowhere. They began their journey as wolves that got friendly with humans over 15,000 years ago. The romantic notion that a few of these-super-friendly carnivores were inspired to investigate the sweet smell of Elk cooking on an open fire could well be true.

Mankind, being the consummate opportunist, enlisted a wild animal to be its hunting companion. From there, wolves were bred for specific purposes culminating in a new species called "dog". Over time, the predatory nature of this wild beast was curbed through breeding, as humans looked to create a companionable animal with the instinct of wolf.

Studies have often shown dogs look more to humans than their own kind, unlike wolves, who roam in packs and grieve for their loved ones. The way dogs recognize their owners was thought to be a product of their domestication, chilling with their guardians on the sofa. They were not like their ancestors who shied away from people and even when raised in captivity, showed a discerning attitude toward their caregivers.

A study featured on Gizmodo tells a different wolfy-tale, as researchers from the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary raised wolf pups to find out if they could have a dog-like relationship with humans. The fact that wolves lick each other’s faces and can follow a human gaze led them to believe past thinking might be flawed. Earlier studies had deemed that once a wolf-pup gets to the age of 16 weeks, the wolf-factor kicks in.

They discovered wolves can form personable friendships with caregivers while retaining their independence. Dogs, on the other hand, are more dependent on humans. This gives credence to folklore stories about wolves stopping by early man's campfire for a coffee and a chat.

Science Behind Dogs Recognizing Their Owners


Science is all steamed up about dogs. The things learned have opened Pandora's box and put quiet to foolish meanderings about our canines credibility. Recently, a team of researchers from the Paolo Mongillo University of Padua in Italy set up a study to find out if dogs can recognize their owners' faces.

Dogs were placed in a room as their owner and a stranger walked back and forth past the pooch. The people then left by separate doors and the dog was allowed to follow. The study showed pooches had preference over their owners and sat by their pet-pals' door.

Next, the dog’s owner and the stranger came into the room with hoods over their faces. This confused the pooch, showing they rely on their pet-parent's facial expression as recognition. The researchers believe this is due to domestication but that doesn’t sit entirely right with captive wolves that can recognize caregivers. Was this ability inherited or evolved over thousands of years?

The lights were out, on that question being answered until the ground-breaking research involving an MRI machine and dogs. According to the BBC, Earth News, researchers at the University of Mexico showed images of objects and facial expressions to dogs while inside an MRI scanner.

Looking into their minds, they saw their doggy brains light up when the woofers looked at pictures of people suggesting they recognize their guardians by looking at their face.

You might not know it, but we all have a unique, body language blueprint. When we speak, our hands move, facial impressions change, and our bodies dance, this way and that. Your dog is watching your every move and could pick you out in a crowd just by your body language cues. They’ll also be able to smell something familiar even if you’re in a lift full of people. If your voice doesn’t give you away, the perfume you're wearing will.

Helping Dogs Recognize Their Owners


We’ve been told for years that dogs can’t remember much until science discovered they have an episodic memory like us. This is how we recall a monumental event or a place that captured our hearts.

When a dog greets a soldier after returning home, the recognition is there and the pooch goes crazy seeing a dear, old friend. The owner's scent would have alerted them, as a dog's olfactory system has a memory of its own. This is how woofers track down people under the ground, in the water, and over land.

You-Tube provides memorable moments when dogs greet their soldier-owners. It’s a beautiful sight, watching every breed of dog show how much they recognize and have missed their owners. Science has told us dogs love their people and watching reunions could melt the coolest heart.

Scientists at Emory University have verified the age-old question “Do dogs really love us?" Using brain imaging technology, they found dogs place their owners' scent on a pedestal.

We now know facial recognition; voice, scent, and body language cues notify our mutts that their owner is standing before them. Their wolf grandparents had something to contribute, as did an eternity of breeding teeth-barring wolves into dogs. Let’s dig a bit deeper and find out if their genetics have a part to play.

A team of scientists led by a geneticist and researcher from Oregon State University wanted to know how interested pups were in people. Eighteen dogs and ten wolves were tested to see how they get on with humans. The experiment involved treats and puzzles, which the wolves won paws down - but only because the woofers were besotted with the people.

This could be because a gene that has mutated in dogs is synonymous with Williams Syndrome, a developmental disorder that can make people over-friendly. This might explain why pooches like hanging out with us and can get separation anxiety when we leave. It’s not usually seen in wolves, so all that time living with humans has changed evolution and given us exactly what we wanted -a perfect pooch that loves us and recognizes who we are.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/17/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.