HELSINKI -Dogs may possess the ability to recognise facial features from photographs - a skill previously thought to be exclusive to humans and some primates. A study by researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland used eye movement tracking to see if they look at familiar and strange faces differently.

Their eye movements were measured while they watched images of familiar humans faces and dogs being displayed on the computer screen, as well images from dogs and humans that the canines had never met. ‘Dogs were trained to lie still during the image presentation and to perform the task independently. ‘Dogs seemed to experience the task rewarding, because they were very eager to participate,’ Professor Vainio told Science Daily.

While it is well known that eye contact is an important part of communication between dogs and humans, no studies have probed dog’s ability to recognise faces using eye movement tracking. The team found that dogs fixed their gaze more often on familiar faces and eyes rather than strange ones, indicating that dogs were able to perceive faces in the images.

These results indicate that dogs might have facial recognition skills, similar to humans. The researcher also found dogs looked at images of dogs longer than images of humans, regardless of the familiarity of the faces in the images. Furthermore, some parts of the images was presented in inverted forms, for example upside-down, as it is known that the human brain processes upside-down images in a different way than upright facial images. Dogs viewed upright faces just as long as inverted faces, but they gazed more at the eye area of upright faces - just like us.