Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 525–533 | Cite as

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

  • Anaïs RaccaEmail author
  • Eleonora Amadei
  • Séverine Ligout
  • Kun Guo
  • Kerstin Meints
  • Daniel Mills
Original Paper


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.


Preferential looking Visual paired comparison Face discrimination Inversion effect Dogs 



We thank Dr. Olivier Pascalis for advice on experimental design and comments on the manuscript; Fiona Williams for helping data collection; and Sylvia Sizer, Szymon Burzynski and Angela Fieldsend for providing dog pictures. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on the manuscript. Ethical approval had been granted for the University of Lincoln (UK), and all procedures complied with the ethical guidance of the International Society for Applied Ethology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anaïs Racca
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Eleonora Amadei
    • 1
    • 3
  • Séverine Ligout
    • 1
  • Kun Guo
    • 2
  • Kerstin Meints
    • 2
  • Daniel Mills
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Morfofisiologia Veterinaria e Produzioni AnimaliUniversità degli Studi di BolognaBolognaItaly

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