Curie-point pyrolysis mass spectra were obtained from reference Propionibacterium strains and canine isolates. Artificial neural networks (ANNs) were trained by supervised learning (with the back-propagation algorithm) to recognize these strains from their pyrolysis mass spectra; all the strains isolated from dogs were identified as human wild type P. acnes. This is an important nosological discovery, and demonstrates that the combination of pyrolysis mass spectrometry and ANNs provides an objective, rapid and accurate identification technique. Bacteria isolated from different biopsy specimens from the same dog were found to be separate strains of P. acnes, demonstrating a within-animal variation in microflora. The classification of the canine isolates by Kohonen artificial neural networks (KANNs) was compared with the classical multivariate techniques of canonical variates analysis and hierarchical cluster analysis, and found to give similar results. This is the first demonstration, within microbiology, of KANNs as an unsupervised clustering technique which has the potential to group pyrolysis mass spectra both automatically and relatively objectively.