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Just the other day, a client told me that she thinks her darling pug, Buzzby, is able to recognize other pugs when he goes to day care or a dog park. She says that he gets very excited to play with another pug that looks like him. I believe her. I think that he finds other pug features very familiar, but maybe not because he knows what his own face looks like. I think it is something simpler than that.
A study looked at whether or not dogs can identify other faces belonging to unfamiliar dogs on sight alone. The researchers showed the dogs photos of faces belonging to dogs (and other species, like humans, cows, and sheep) and they rewarded the dogs only when they were able to pick out the other dogs. The identification speed varied with individual dogs, but the vast majority of the dogs could correctly identify dog faces of many breeds from photo images alone without the other markers, like scent or touch that would normally be present in a face to face meeting, accurately discriminating them from other species’ faces.
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If dogs recognize other dogs by a 2 dimensional image of the face only, it stands to reason that a purebred dog who was a part of a litter of similar dogs, would be familiar with the appearance of his own breed. After all, his mother would presumably look like him and his siblings in a litter of purebreds. The features peculiar to the breed would probably seem especially familiar and comfortable to your dog.
Perhaps your dog thinks that other dogs that resemble her are her siblings or parents. We don’t know enough about what dogs think to say for sure, but it is reasonable to think that if dogs in this study were able to identify dog faces of different breeds and colors as still being dogs, they would be able to recognize dogs that resemble their first family members, don’t you agree?
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- Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn. 2013 Jul-16(4):637-51. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0600-8. Epub 2013 Feb 14.Autier-Dérian D, Deputte BL, Chalvet-Monfray K, Coulon M, Mounier L.