Can Dogs See Human Faces?

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Introduction

It's easy to believe that we could pick our pups out of a lineup in a matter of seconds. We see them every day ...  we cuddle on the couch, feed them at meal times, and play tons of games together. Well what about our dogs? 

Have you ever wondered whether our pups could identify us based on how we look - simply by our faces? The amount of time spent together would lead us to say yes.

Read on to find out!

Signs that Dogs can See Human Faces

Researchers have determined that dogs can indeed see human faces, and are actually capable of reading our facial expressions too! When dogs are playing with other dogs, they base their interactions with each other on cues that other dogs give off (like scents, behaviors, or facial cues).

Further, dogs may even mimic the facial expressions of other dogs.  

Dogs are also known to mimic humans based on their facial expressions. For instance, when you give your pooch an excited smile with raised eyebrows and a light in your eyes, your pup will respond energetically and happily. When you show your canine companion that you are happy and joyful, your pup will likely mimic your feelings and respond accordingly (maybe even with a toy or cuddles).  

On the other side of the coin, if you are sad, your facial expressions will be linked with negative behaviors like tears or frowning. In response, your dog will likely comfort you. This all goes to show that not only can dogs see human faces and expressions, but they can feel and relate to the emotion being shown and react accordingly!

Body Language

These are some signs you may witness when your pup is seeing human faces:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Panting
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

Here are a couple of other signs you might notice if your dog is seeing human faces:
  • Mimicking behavior
  • Mimicking expression
  • Mimicking feelings

The Science Behind Dogs Seeing Human Faces

Researchers have studied whether dogs are able to see human faces and recognize what is being shown. In recent studies, when dogs were presented with human faces, the ventral cortex part of the brain responded most powerfully. 

In turn, this area of the brain was relatively unresponsive to images of objects which were not faces. Further, the ventral cortex is the same region of the brain that recognizes the faces of the same species - so dogs are responding to human faces in the same region of the brain where they respond to dog faces.

So what does this mean? One theory is the idea of "co-evolution." Basically, co-evolution is the idea that the evolution of one species (hint: humans) affects the evolutionary changes of another (hint: dogs). Dogs have been domesticated by humans and in turn, have roamed the earth with humans for thousands of years. In turn, the belief that dogs have become increasingly better at responding to the people in their environments and recognizing their faces would be an adaptive, evolutionary, advantage.

Another theory is the idea of selective breeding. Throughout domestication, humans may have "systematically selected and nurtured" dogs - dogs who responded correctly and positively to human faces, emotions, and behavioral responses. Basically, dogs that were able to understand and effectively communicate with their human companions, dogs that exhibited a higher social skill, would have been preferred and cared for by humans. 

Further, while selective breeding-based behavior was going on, it is possible that at a subconscious, neurological level, humans were unknowingly selecting to care for dogs with brains that had specific capabilities to recognize human faces in the same way that they might recognize the faces of animals of their own species. 

Ultimately, dogs don't rely on simply sight to recognize their humans. Dogs use a combination of senses in order to identify their humans. Dogs use their powerful sniffers, their ability to read body language and facial expressions, and they use their hearing to identify tone and pitch. While facial expressions help dogs know what humans are communicating with them, dogs are able to analyze other factors to fully understand who their human is and what their human wants. 

Dogs are believed to have the mental capabilities, including facial recognition skills, of a two-year-old human. Dogs learn how to read facial expressions over time and are able to pick up on specific behaviors that make their own human unique.

Training Your Dog to See Human Faces

The easiest way to train your dog to see your face and recognize your facial expressions is to simply spend time together! Cuddling, playing games, and going on walks really builds your relationship and creates bonding moments. Even further, your pup will get to know you better and will have a better understanding of what you need.

You can even work on introducing your canine companion to new people and friends in order to teach your dog to recognize the multitude of expressions, emotions, and faces we humans have. Some dogs may be more socially adept than other dogs. If your dog does not seem to be responding to you appropriately, don't punish your pup! Patience is key! Dogs are willing to learn and pick up new things quicker if they feel encouraged and comfortable.

How to React When Your Dog Sees Human Faces:

  • Encourage positive reactions with treats and rewards.
  • Practice communicating through facial expressions.
  • Use facial expressions that match how you feel.