Does My Dog Know When I'm Taking a Picture of Her?

Human beings have been enamored with capturing images for thousands of years. Cave paintings, regular paintings, sculptures, and photographs all seek to create a lasting representation of what we see. From the inception of the camera obscura, essentially an image projected through a small hole into a dark room, to the Daguerreotypes of the Victorian era, the ever familiar Kodak cameras, to digital cameras and now popular smartphone cameras, there are countless ways we have immortalized the image of our most trusted canine companions.

Young woman taking selfie with her dog with smartphone
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Seriously though, with the right lighting and angles, your beloved barking bestie could definitely be Instagram famous. But does he know you're taking his picture?

Not a lot of science, but…

There isn't a lot of scientific data that specifically states one way or the other. While many pet owners would swear their dog knows exactly what it means when the cameras come out, others say nay. In order to understand whether or not your dog is posing for a picture, you first have to ask if your dog knows what the camera is for. Chances are, he doesn't. While dogs do have a sense of object permanence and the ability to make associations with specific objects--fido and his favorite toy, for example--it is unlikely that your dog knows that the strange black box hanging around your neck or the little flash on your phone is taking a picture.

beautiful girl photographer with camera taking picture of little dogs in studio
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Facial recognition

Since dogs primarily use their noses to gather information, the skill of recognizing faces is not a huge priority. That being said, dogs do actually recognize our faces. Dogs are social animals. Your dog loves to see your face, and studies show that your dog would rather see your smiling face than a frowning stranger or inanimate object. This applies even on a screen.

When you're on vacation and you video chat your dog (we know you do it) and you see he's getting super excited to see your face, you might be imagining it. Just a little. Your dog can definitely tell that he's looking at a humans face, but he isn't making the connection that it is you, his beloved owner. That being said, if your face was projected on a tv screen, it is more likely that your dog might recognize that it is you, since the size of the screen does make a difference.

Self-awareness

While your dog can recognize your face when he sees it, he probably doesn't recognize his own. Your dog doesn't know that the dog in the mirror is not some interloper but himself. Unlike humans, elephants, dolphins, some birds and other apes, dogs don't have the ability to know that their reflection is, well, them. The hypothesis is that dogs rely primarily on their sense of smell to organize and understand the information their brains are processing, and not their eyes.

Border Collie dog with owner
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Set up for a selfie

Try taking a selfie with your dog with the screen facing him. Just because your dog doesn't know its him when he sees his reflection on your phone, you are very likely to be able to take a pretty spectacular selfie together, especially if you ply him with praise, cuddles and even treats. As we know, your dog may not know it's your smiling face on the phone, but he can see it is a person and he will respond. Dogs definitely respond to human emotions, so if you are happy and excited to take a picture he will be too.

Chow Chow Selfie
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Ok, so he might not know you’re taking his picture

Even if he doesn't know that you're taking his picture, you can get a great shot. There are so many photographer-approved tricks and tips for taking photos of your four-legged fave that once you print the pictures, no one will even know your dog wasn't completely in on it. As any model will tell you—dog or human—the best shots often times feel the most natural. Make sure your dog is comfortable, keep smiling, and maybe keep a stash of treats handy to keep his attention. He loves being with you and he knows you love him, so he'll be more than happy to ham it up for the camera if he sees it makes you happy.