Dogs Recognize Other Dog Faces, See Past Bred Differences: Study

Despite the very obvious differences between a Chihuahua and a great dane, they are, technically, the same animal: . But are able to look like size, coat color and type, and head-shape and spot the other canine face in the crowd?

A group of researchers led by scientists from the National Veterinary School in Lyon, France, set out to answer this question of whether dogs can other dogs by sight alone. They published their results in the journal Animal Cognition last week.


Nine dogs were selected as test subjects. The dogs were put in a room with two computer screens, side-by-side, separated by a partition (the could see both screens). In each trial, one screen would show a picture of a , while another would show a picture of another kind of animal, such as a cow, cat, human, bird or reptile.

dogexperiment(Photo: Dominique Autier-Dérian / Animal Cognition) A dog has to choose between two screens, one showing a dog face, the other showing the face of a non-dog animal.

After the images appeared on the screens, the dog would be prompted with the word “image,” at which time it would go place its paw on a table in front of one of the screens. When dogs picked pictures of other dogs, they were given treats, thus reinforcing early on in the experiment that they should look for faces of other dogs.

Each dog was shown more than 144 pairs of pictures, drawn from a pool of 3,000 different pictures of dogs and 3,000 pictures of nondog species. The pictures also varied within the groups; many different breeds and crossbreeds of dogs were used, and faces in both groups were pictured in a range of positions – front view, profile or three-quarter view.


All nine dogs were able to group together, despite the wide range of breeds presented.

“The fact that dogs are able to recognize their own species visually and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities insures that social behavior and mating between different breeds is still potentially possible,” the authors wrote. “Although humans have stretched the Canis familiaris species to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved.”


One caveat to this , as Scientific American noted, is that the researchers did not include pictures of foxes or wolves in the pool of nondog species. It would be interesting to see if dogs could still distinguish themselves from their close ancestors in the case of wolves — of which dogs are actually considered a subspecies — or from slightly more distant ancestors like foxes, jackals or coyotes.

But these results do emphasize that dogs still have a remarkably all-encompassing view of what a dog looks like. If physical differences mattered more to a dog's species recognition, that would raise the possibility that, in the wild, a dog might not recognize dogs of a different breed that looked radically different from them. That would make it less likely for two physically distinct breeds to mate. Over generations, that could lead toward reproductive isolation and the formation of new subspecies or even species branching off from dogs.

But for now, it looks as though dogs are likely to remain a single species. What researchers are probably going to look at next is what cues a dog uses to visually distinguish a Rottweiler from a rabbit or a pit bull from a person.

SOURCE: Autier-Derian et al. “Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris).” Animal Cognition February 2013.

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    • Drew Arcoleo
    • February 23, 2013


    • Drew Arcoleo
    • February 23, 2013

    the beauty in this is that there is no gimmick! 100% real moment 🙂

    • Drew Arcoleo
    • February 23, 2013

    i wish that bud light was actually in on this, would have been a pretty solid pay day!!

    • mermaid8495
    • February 23, 2013

    looooooooooooooooovely! <3

    • Torath2
    • February 23, 2013

    pies po prostu przygotowuje się na większy hałas. otwierając mordę może wyrównać różnicę ciśnień na zewnątrz i wewnątrz bębenków. podobna reakcja jest gdy puszcza się muzykę bardzo głośno – każdy słyszący pies zacznie “śpiewać”

    • NickHey
    • February 23, 2013

    lol had me laughing lots, such an awesome vid 😀

    • bitek17
    • February 23, 2013

    Your dog is awesome!

    • Dominika1987
    • February 23, 2013

    What kind of song is that? Something funky?

    • rosselur
    • February 23, 2013

    I totally agree. Could not have said it better myself.

    • kkiskraykray
    • February 23, 2013


    • Jensen K
    • February 23, 2013

    Big smile and head moving to the music. Awesome!!

    • AvidAphid
    • February 23, 2013

    This is just awesome. Love it!

    • Tadeusz Chłoń
    • February 23, 2013

    You got some funky dog over here 😛

    • OneInfiniteLove
    • February 23, 2013

    I LOVE THIS!! Wayyy cute!! Great video. 🙂

    • mishakaz
    • February 23, 2013

    You could say he’s a real blues hound.

    • schweden747
    • February 23, 2013

    Il aime la music 😀

    • cx1designs
    • February 23, 2013

    Too funny!!! :o)

    • daro2299
    • February 23, 2013

    Dog’s really serious when he doesn’t play

    • Laurent H
    • February 23, 2013

    now i really want a bud light

    • Käptn Kook
    • February 23, 2013

    still cant believe this is actually true…

    • nahuel guzman
    • February 23, 2013

    gotta love this dog

    • Nguyễn Huy
    • February 23, 2013


    • vibradiant
    • February 23, 2013

    Like this if you bobbed your head with the dog.

    • Shawn Macht
    • February 23, 2013

    its even funnier because not only is he smiling with the music, but hes bobbing his head with it as well.

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