Discrimination of human and dog faces and inversion responses in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris)

Anim Cogn. 2010 May;13(3):525-33. doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0303-3. Epub 2009 Dec 18.


Although domestic dogs can respond to many facial cues displayed by other dogs and humans, it remains unclear whether they can differentiate individual dogs or humans based on facial cues alone and, if so, whether they would demonstrate the face inversion effect, a behavioural hallmark commonly used in primates to differentiate face processing from object processing. In this study, we first established the applicability of the visual paired comparison (VPC or preferential looking) procedure for dogs using a simple object discrimination task with 2D pictures. The animals demonstrated a clear looking preference for novel objects when simultaneously presented with prior-exposed familiar objects. We then adopted this VPC procedure to assess their face discrimination and inversion responses. Dogs showed a deviation from random behaviour, indicating discrimination capability when inspecting upright dog faces, human faces and object images; but the pattern of viewing preference was dependent upon image category. They directed longer viewing time at novel (vs. familiar) human faces and objects, but not at dog faces, instead, a longer viewing time at familiar (vs. novel) dog faces was observed. No significant looking preference was detected for inverted images regardless of image category. Our results indicate that domestic dogs can use facial cues alone to differentiate individual dogs and humans and that they exhibit a non-specific inversion response. In addition, the discrimination response by dogs of human and dog faces appears to differ with the type of face involved.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Dogs / physiology
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • Face
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology