Scientists Studied How Dogs Recognize Other Dogs, and the Research Is Adorable

published Dec 22, 2020
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Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, from massive Newfoundlands to teacup poodles and from delicate greyhounds to triple-chinned pugs. So how does one dog recognize another, across all these breed differences? Butt-sniffing might be involved, but according to one especially adorable study, dogs seem to be able to recognize each other visually, just from a photo.

The study is from 2013, but it got renewed attention earlier this month, when Benjamin Katz, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, tweeted about it at length.

His Twitter thread includes some very charming photos from the study, including headshots of dogs with names like Bounty and Vodka.

In the study, nine dogs were shown two images at a time: one of a dog, and one of a “non-dog” (such as a human, a hamster, or a grumpy-looking cat). When they chose the image of the dog, they got a treat. In the next phase of the study, the reward was reversed, and subjects got a treat for correctly choosing the non-dog image. In general, the results suggested that dogs can recognize other dogs visually across phenotype, no butt-sniffing needed.

Though the study was not particularly large or conclusive, Katz’s thread about it blew up. Clearly the internet is hungry for stories about dogs being their good, pure selves.

Katz told Bored Panda he was looking for a break from his own (non-canine-related) research when he found the study. 

“Data analysis can be pretty dry and I was looking for a distraction, so all of a sudden it was the most important thing in the world for me to figure out how dogs know that other dogs are dogs,” he said. “When I googled it and found that the research was both rigorous and adorable, I was hooked.”

If you demand even more adorable rigor, you can check out the whole study in the journal Animal Cognition here.