A new study in the journal Animal Behaviour shows that dogs rely a great deal on face recognition to tell their own person from other people.
Researchers describe how dogs in the study had difficultly recognizing their owners when two human subjects had their faces covered. But uncovered, the dogs were riveted to their owners.
“This is very likely to be a by-product of thousands of years of domestication,” lead researcher Paolo Mongillo, from the University of Padua in Italy, said in a BBC article.
This may comes as a surprise to people like me, who assume that while my dog may be able to tell my general shape and form and movement — and can certainly distinguish my face from Uncle Fred’s — he doesn’t need something as obvious as facial features to differentiate me from others. He has my scent for that.
That was my hope, at least. On a few occasions, I have gotten dressed up as one of the lovely “Far Side” female characters for a charity 5k run based on Gary Larson’s great cartoons. As you can see from the photo on the right from a few years ago, I’m not quite myself, nor is my child. Besides increasing several balloon sizes up top, my face is different to the point that I don’t think any close human friends would see my me in a crowded cafe and say “Hi Maria!” without blinking.
But that’s precisely what Jake has done. He just looks at me as if there is absolutely no change when I’m in these outfits. One time I got dressed at a friend’s house and came home after the run, still in Far Side mode. He didn’t give me a second look. Just the usual wag. And that was through the pane glass front door. No scent, just sight.
This either means that in real life I look more like a Far Side character than I care to admit, or that there’s just something about me that Jake knows, regardless of what I’m wearing on my face. I prefer to believe the latter.
Meanwhile, back to the study. I wonder if the methodology had anything to do with the results? As you can see in the photo to the left, people with white cloth coverings over their heads are crisscrossing in front of the dog subjects. In most cases, the dogs were much less attentive to their owners.
Looking at the photo, I think I know the problem. It’s not so much that they couldn’t differentiate their owners. It simply appears that the dogs were concerned that their owners had joined the KKK. They could only sit there, staring into space, wondering what had gone wrong…
Dogster readers, does your dog recognize your face? If you were in a lineup with five other people, in a glassed-off room, do you think her eyes would come to rest on you?