Returning home from a long day of work and seeing your dog greeting you ecstatically at the door will put a smile on most dog owners’ faces. In fact, most of our pooches will already be at the door before we’ve even taken our keys out, waiting in anticipation. They don’t need to see our faces to know it’s us.
So do dogs notice our faces at all? As it turns out, your dog probably feels as excited about the back of your head, as they do your face.
Does my dog notice my face?
Faces play an integral part in human communication. When interacting with other people, we are paying attention to their face and emotions, forming a visual connection. We much prefer being able to see someone’s face when we are speaking with them! Unlike us, however, dogs’ brains are not wired in this way. They do not show a preference for seeing faces like humans do, as found by a recent study in Hungary.
Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University, who conducted the study, showed different images to their dog and human participants while scanning their brains. In the human brain, there was significantly increased activity when participants were shown a human face, than when shown the back of the head. In dogs, however, brain activity remained the same when shown either picture.
This is because dogs do not have specialized areas in the brain to process faces like we do. In other words, humans have a face-sensitive region in their brain, causing us to respond differently when seeing another face, whereas dogs do not. This is simply a matter of evolution – from a dog’s perspective, the ability to acknowledge other dogs’ faces is not very important, as long as they are able to identify that it is a dog!
So does my dog recognise my face?
Dog owners, I know what you’re thinking; “well that just can’t be true. My dog always looks at my face when I enter the room or call them”.
However, you need not worry. The study shows that dogs just tend not to pay attention to faces in the same way as humans. So it is still highly likely that they do recognize our faces. You are, after all, their favourite human (or meal provider!).
Reading emotions and facial cues
In fact, through domestication, dogs have developed the ability to read facial cues such as eye contact and facial expressions, which has been demonstrated in several studies. Despite not having evolved brain regions to deal with faces, dogs have learned to observe and tune into our emotions in an incredible way.
So, the next time your dog comes to sit next to you when you are having a bad day, give them an extra pat, because they truly do care for you!
More than just a face
Most importantly, remember that your face is just one of the ways your dog can recognise you. Where humans have to rely upon facial features for communication and recognition, dogs are experts at non-facial cues. They can analyse many things which help them remember who you are.
Your dog remembers the sound of your voice, how you walk around the house and of course your smell, all of which they use to differentiate between the people they know. Dogs may not show particular interest in our faces, but that’s because they are invested in knowing us as a whole!
If that doesn’t show true love and devotion, I’m not sure what does.
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