4 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Their Owners in Pictures?



4 min read


Can Dogs Recognize Their Owners in Pictures?


‘Every picture tells a story’- a saying that is true to the animal world and our world too. When your dog looks at a picture of you, they can tell there is something familiar about this picture. It may not smell right, according to your dog’s keenest sense, but your dog can see an image of you and recognize your facial features. 

Dogs will recognize their owners, but only if there are no major changes to their persona. For example, if you normally have a beard, your dog will not necessarily recognize you without one. If you change the way you look, your dog will need their sense of smell to confirm it’s you. 


Signs Your Dog Recognizes Your Picture

Dogs show signs of recognition by looking at the picture intently. They may tilt their heads and push at the picture with their noses. Although dogs have good vision and can imprint images in their minds, they do associate everything with their sense of smell. The picture may look like you and your dog will recognize that, but not smell like you. 

Dogs use their eyes to track an image in a picture. They will focus on the image and eye tracking shows that they are following this image and watching the part of the picture they recognize. It was noticed that dogs looked longer and more intently at pictures of people they knew than at the image of a stranger. Dogs have shown that they recognize images of other animals in the family. 

Dogs can form mental concepts, according to the 2007 Journal, Animal Cognition. Through image and voice projection, the journal showed that dogs were looking longer at the picture of their owners, but were puzzled by a picture of a stranger. 

Although dogs do like to see pictures of their owners, it has been shown that the simple, passport type of picture is preferred to an elaborate, dressed-up style of photograph. Dogs, it seems, just like to keep it simple. 

Body Language

Signs that your dog recognizes someone in a photo are:

  • Staring
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

More signs that indicate that your dog recognizes someone in a photo are:

  • Lip-Licking
  • Looking Intently At The Picture
  • Returning To The Photo

The History of Dogs Recognizing People in Photos


Recognizing images in pictures is a relatively new aspect of dogs' history. It is not surprising, however, to find that now that pictures, photographs, and images are available, dogs can recognize their owners in a picture. 

Dogs like to be a part of our social network and, therefore, they come to be familiar with recognizing people in pictures. The mental development of a dog is on a maturity level with a three-year-old child and it is at this level of maturity that a three-year-old can associate real objects with a picture. At this level, it is possible to transfer and associate the image from the real image to the pictorial image. 

During the Hurricane Harvey disaster, many animals were displaced and needed rescuing. Dogs were collected by rescuers and some recognized the image of their owners as they passed by in their rescue vehicles. 

An ‘ap’ called 'Finding Rover' has helped many owners find their dogs through the picture image. Now that we know dogs can recognize pictures, perhaps the same system could be used to help dogs find their owners through a picture and search-and-rescue technology.

The Science of Dogs Recognizing Their Owners in Photos


Scientific studies always help to understand the logic behind an action and the Journal of Vision conducted some experiments to show that dogs could have facial recognition skills. A group of twelve Beagles were put into a training program with a handler for each dog. They spent two hours a day together for six months. 

At the end of that time, they were given visual recognition tests. The dogs proved beyond a doubt that they did recognize their handlers and were not interested in pictures of strangers. These experiments were taken using dogs and new handlers over a six-month period and the results were positive, so imagine how much more positive the results are with you and your dog when you have been interacting for a long time.

Training Dogs to Recognize Someone in a Photo


Dogs have been trained to respond to hand signals and to recognize pictures. In a study using different animals, including a chimpanzee, dogs proved to be more able to be trained to focus and find an image. Dogs could be trained to look at an image in one room and then go to another room and fetch the real object that the image represented. 

Part of this training included selecting the real object from amongst the pictures. Dogs were able to fetch objects that the trainers pointed or gestured towards. Training to respond to gestures is unique to dogs who are very close to the social patterns of their owners. Training to respond to images can take place along with gesturing and demonstrating the required response. 

Stanley Coren, the author of many dog behavior books including ‘How dogs think’, used five Border Collies in his tests to see if they could find objects after seeing the pictures. Dogs can be trained using two methods that will develop their thinking and recognition skills. 

One method is ‘Operant Conditioning’ and this is very reliant on rewards or treats for good behavior. You would show pictures or hand signals to your dog and reward the correct response. 

The other method of training is known as ‘Classical Conditioning’ and this is based on prediction or association. When your dog hears car keys, that predicts a drive in the car, or the sound of a lead would be associated with a walk. Getting to know your image could predict or let your dog associate with positive images while you are away. 

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Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 07/06/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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