-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs can recognize
the faces of familiar people and canine pals, a new study
The recognition of facial features is a specialized skill
previously thought to be unique to people and possibly other
primates, the University of Helsinki researchers said.
It's long been known that faces and eye contact play an
important role in communication between people and dogs. However,
the new study is believed to be the first to use eye movement
tracking to investigate the facial recognition ability of dogs.
The eye movements of the dogs in the study were assessed while
they were shown photos on a computer screen of people and dogs.
These included images of their owners or another dog in the same
family, and images of unfamiliar people and dogs.
The dogs scanned the familiar faces more thoroughly than the
unfamiliar faces, which indicates that they were able to
distinguish between the faces, according to the study published
Dec. 5 in the journal
"Dogs were trained to lie still during the image presentation and to perform the task independently. Dogs seemed to experience the task [as] rewarding, because they were very eager to participate," study leader Outi Vainio said in a university news release.
The dogs had not been trained to recognize faces, so the
findings suggest that they have a natural ability to tell the
difference between faces and may have facial recognition skills
similar to people, the researchers said.
The study dogs also looked at photos of other dogs longer than
photos of people, regardless of whether they knew them or not. This
echoes a previous study by the same group of researchers that found
that dogs prefer looking at other dogs' faces over people's
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