Dogs recognize pictures of their owners
A young girl whose family had one dog and two cats asked her mother, a college graduate and wife of a college professor, “Mommie, do animals have feelings?” Mommie answered, “I don’t know dear. Science hasn’t discovered that yet.” That was a true episode overheard directly by this author.
Now, science is figuring out if dogs recognize photos of their human masters apart from photos of other human faces. A study conducted in Helsinki, Finland, entitled “How dogs scan familiar and inverted faces: an eye movement study” determined that facial recognition among dogs is probable.
Hooray for science. Tell us more! (Sarcasm implied.) The study was recorded in the journal Animal Cognition just recently, December 2013.
According to the study abstract, they understood that dogs seem to be able to use facial cues from their masters. The researchers took 23 pet dogs and eight kennel dogs for their experiment. They applied facial inversion effects (deficits in face processing when the image is turned upside down) and observed responses to personal familiarity using eye movement tracking with images both inverted and not inverted.
They noticed that all the dogs fixated more on the eye areas of images projected upright than images inverted. They also noticed that pet dogs fixated more on familiar human faces. But both kennel and pet dogs fixated more on conspecific (same species) animal faces.
They concluded that dogs’ face scanning goes beyond the physical properties of images. Semantic factors, i.e., the collection of data from living memory, also determines the amount of attention a dog visually fixates on a photographic image. This was demonstrated by the fact that familiar human and animal faces attracted more fixed attention than unfamiliar faces.
Their conclusion: “Facial images were generally more attractive for pet dogs than kennel dogs, but living environment did not affect conspecific preference or inversion and familiarity responses, suggesting that the basic mechanisms of face processing in dogs could be hardwired or might develop under limited exposure.”
That appears to be a rather convoluted conclusion. Maybe the translation factor from Finnish to English?
Real life canine experiences
After dealing with several dogs, both our own and others while dog sitting in Mexico, several experiences demonstrated how dogs do get to know and remember you quite well whether you were kind or not.
A considerable time after lovingly caring for a dog over a week or more, upon running into the dogs with their owners, the dogs would happily greet me, sometimes pulling those holding their leashes, without calling or signaling. At some distance, they recognized my face and came running to greet me.
One dog that we had often taken care of was wandering around off of his leash, which he often did near his owner’s small Mexican health food store. He hadn’t seen me for months. Without prompting, he lit up and came running happily (yes, dogs do have feelings) as soon as he turned around and saw me.
You’ve probably had similar experiences as a loving, caring dog owner or caretaker. Facial recognition along with personal energy fields or auras are factors that dogs do recognize.
A common theme in Buddhism and other Eastern religious/spiritual traditions is to be kind to sentient (having conscious awareness and feelings) beings, which includes animals. This benefits animal welfare in addition to bonding us with the animal kingdom. And it’s conducive toward increasing compassion within ourselves for all sentient beings, including other humans.
Mahatma Ghandi has said you can judge the morality of a nation by the way its society treats its animals. It seems like most societies worldwide offer mixed signals, at best, within that context.
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