4 min read


Can Dogs Remember Faces?



4 min read


Can Dogs Remember Faces?


If you are like most pet owners, there's a good chance you've wondered if your dog really can recognize your face, or if they just know your smell and the sounds associated with you coming in the door. 

Believe it or not, but your dog most certainly can recognize your face! For animals that live in packs, facial recognition is extremely important. In years past it was thought that only humans and primates could recognize specific faces, but new research indicates otherwise. In fact, this is a highly-developed skill that our dogs also possess, which makes perfect sense, if you ask us. 

Facial recognition is an important part of the dog-owner relationship, as eye contact is crucial to both trust and training. Dogs are much more likely to listen to people with whom they have an established relationship and are willing to make eye contact with, which is often those whose face they recognize. 

Furthermore, dogs are so in tune with facial cues that they often look to their owner's faces for clues on what they should be doing. 


Signs Your Dog Recognizes Your Face

Now that we've established that yes, your dog can recognize your face, it's time to dive a little deeper into the topic. We know that dogs are able to see faces and differentiate those that are familiar to them with those they don't know, but how can you tell if your dog recognizes you? 

It will probably be pretty obvious to you once your dog has learned your face. Like humans, dogs display their emotions in different ways but licking, jumping, whining, and overzealous joy are just a few indicators that your dog most definitely knows your mug. 

Over time, it has become increasingly important for dogs to learn how to read human faces. This is an evolutionary that skill dogs have developed over time and it is incredibly important to the relationships they establish. Dogs look to faces for information and behavioral signals, and they can also read mannerisms based on a person's face. 

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog recognizes your face:

  • Alert
  • Head Tilting
  • Whining
  • Listening
  • Jumping Up
  • Wag Tail
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog may recognize your face:

  • Licking
  • Happy To See You
  • Snuggling
  • Relaxed
  • Responds To You
  • Seeks Out Your Affection

History of Dogs Recognizing Faces


Over the years there have been numerous studies conducted aimed at determining if dogs can recognize human faces. Studies conducted by Emory University, the University of Denver, the University of Helsinki, and numerous scientists all across the world have shown that dogs maintain the same evolutionary skills as humans do when it comes to facial recognition. Many years ago it was thought that only humans and perhaps some primates could recognize specific faces, but this has since been disproven. In fact, researchers note that dogs have stronger facial recognition abilities than most primates today. 

Faces are incredibly important to dogs in regards to social behavior, which is just one reason why these discoveries are so important. Scientists have learned that the brain strongly correlates to perception and processing of faces in dogs, which means they likely know your face if they've met you before. 

Science Behind Dogs Recognizing Your Face


In a brain imaging study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers looked at the brain activity of dogs using an MRI scanner while showing them human faces. The MRI was able to measure brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow during the entire experiment. (Note: MRI is a non-invasive magnet-based technology that is not harmful to dogs in any way). 

In the experiment, dogs were shown 50 pictures of different people and the scientists monitored their reaction by measuring blood flow in the brain, the temporal lobe, specifically. This study uncovered that the parts of the brain that are linked to emotions (thalamus) were much more active when the dogs were given pictures of people. 

This means that dogs use the same part of the brain as humans do to recognize faces of people. This same study also showed that dogs can actually read our facial expressions, which means they can tell when we are smiling or when we are angry.

Training Your Dog to Recognize Your Face


As we've discussed, your dog will likely recognize your face without any training. Their brain is able to process when it recognizes a face through the temporal lobe the same way we do. 

So, while it isn't necessary to train your dog to recognize your face (they already know how to do this!), you can train them to look at you. Eye contact is an important part of establishing any relationship between dog and owner, but it can also be quite difficult for many animals. Taking the time to train your dog to look at you and others he trusts takes effort, but it is worth it in the end. 

You can start by choosing a word or phrase that means "look at me". This can be as simple as "look at me", or something else if you prefer. Practice the command by sitting or standing and facing your dog. You want to be on the same eye level as them to encourage eye contact. 

At this point, you can add in a hand signal to help drive the point home. Practice makes perfect here, so do your best to use the command in various settings and environments. 

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Written by a Chihuahua lover Allie Wall

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/03/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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