From mastiffs to maltese, dogs recognize their own species

As far as canines are concerned, a dog’s a dog.

It turns out that dogs don’t differentiate between breeds when they look at their canine compatriots. However, they can tell the difference between dogs and other species, according to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Although dog species can vary greatly in size, body type, color and a host of other traits, they’re still part of the same species – Canis lupus familiaris. Researchers at the National Veterinary School in Lyon, France tested nine dogs, which were put into a room with two computer screens separated by a short wall, allowing the dogs to view both monitors, International Business Times (IBT) reports.

As part of the trial, one screen would show a picture of a dog (of varying breeds and from varying angles) and the other would show another animal, such as a cow. The dogs then were prompted by an instructor with the word “image” and would choose one of the screens with its paw. If they picked the picture of the dog, they were given treats.

The dogs were shown more than 144 picture pairs from a group of 3000 dog images and 3000 non-dog images. Dog ancestors, such as foxes or wolves were not included.

Despite their differences, each dog was able to recognize other dogs and group them accordingly.

So what does it all mean? The results indicate “dogs can form a visual category of dog faces and group pictures of very different dogs into a single category, despite the diversity in dog breeds,” according to a statement.

“The fact that dogs are able to recognize their own species visually, and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities, insures that social behavior and mating between different breeds is still potentially possible,” the researchers note in the statement. “Although humans have stretched the Canis familiaris species to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved.”

Want to see pictures of the participating dogs? Scientific American has the roster run down here.

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