September 2005
Volume 5, Issue 8
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2005
Dogs, but not cats, can readily recognize the face of their handler
Author Affiliations
  • Stephen G. Lomber
    School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Paul Cornwell
    Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State Univerisity
Journal of Vision September 2005, Vol.5, 49. doi:
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      Stephen G. Lomber, Paul Cornwell; Dogs, but not cats, can readily recognize the face of their handler. Journal of Vision 2005;5(8):49.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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It should be expected that there are multiple factors that a domestic animal could use to recognize its human handler including face recognition, speech patterns, olfactory signals, and cutaneous cues. The purpose of this study was to examine if either cats or dogs are able to identify their handler using only face recognition. Shortly after weaning, twelve pure-breed beagles and twelve domestic cats were each assigned a different human handler who worked with the animal for two hours each day for six months. The animals were trained to work in a two-alternative forced choice testing apparatus and mastered many different types of pattern and object discriminations. At about 9 months of age, each animal was tested on four different visual discriminations (for 50 trials each), with both stimuli in each pair being rewarded on all trials. Stimulus pairs and results: 1) The face of the handler versus an unfamiliar face. Dogs chose the face of their handler at 88.2%, while the cats chose their handler at 54.5%. 2) The face of an animal that lived with them in the colony versus an unfamiliar animal. Dogs chose the face of the familiar dog at 85.1% and the cats chose the face of the familiar cat at 90.7%. 3) A previously learned natural scene versus and unfamiliar scene. The dogs chose the familiar scene at 89.0% and the cats chose the familiar scene at 85.8%. 4) An unfamiliar natural scene versus an unfamiliar natural scene. The dogs chose one scene at 49.8% and the cats chose one scene at 51.7%. Overall, the only significant difference between the performance of the dogs and cats was in the recognition of the face of their handlers. Neither dogs nor cats had any difficulty recognizing other animals they lived with or a previously-viewed scene. As expected, neither dogs nor do cats have any preference for two scenes that they had not previously seen. Therefore, dogs are able to discriminate their handler from another human based solely upon face recognition.

Lomber, S. G. Cornwell, P. (2005). Dogs, but not cats, can readily recognize the face of their handler [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 5(8):49, 49a,, doi:10.1167/5.8.49. [CrossRef]
 Supported by NSF.

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