When a Dog Hears Your Voice, He Also Sees Your Face

Dog Hear See

You hear your mother’s voice from behind a curtain but as the person comes into view there is a stranger standing before you. A moment of confusion flashes through your brain as you struggle to integrate conflicting memory elicited by the voice with the face you are seeing. You do a double-take. In more descriptive terms, you will look at the face for a much longer time had the voice matched the face and your expectation met.

Human babies experiencing violation-of-expectation will also look at the situation for longer time than when what they see violates their expectation.

Dogs do it too.

In a set of trials, dogs were presented with a recording of their owner’s voice followed by two possibilities; a monitor with their owner’s face (congruent) or a stranger’s face, the incongruent condition.

When experiencing incongruent conditions, the dogs will spend longer time looking at the face than when the owner’s face matched his/her voice. The results may suggest the owner’s voice results in an internal visual representation of the owner’s face and a violation of expectation results in prolonged looking times – just like babies.

In a second experiment a stranger’s voice was presented, first followed by the congruent condition (stranger’s face) or incongruent condition (owner’s face) and again the dogs spent more time looking at the incongruent condition (ie. stranger’s voice + owner’s face) than the congruent condition. One can infer that the dogs were not expecting the owner’s face when hearing the stranger’s voice.

Like humans, dogs are forming an expectation for one sensory modality based on another and that is something we do all the time. Because of the obvious evolutionary advantage it might turn out that humans and dog (and other mammals) are even using analogous neural pathways to integrate auditory and visual information. In the illustrious words of Data (Star Trek Next Generation), “We are more alike than unlike

When I hear my mother’s voice, I see her face pops into my mind; it appears that my dogs have a similar experience when they hear my voice. So maybe I am a doggy-dad after all.

…… I wonder if it works with olfaction too?


Adachi I, Kuwahata H, & Fujita K (2007). Dogs recall their owner’s face upon hearing the owner’s voice. Animal cognition, 10 (1), 17-21 PMID: 16802145

9 thoughts on “When a Dog Hears Your Voice, He Also Sees Your Face

  1. I think this auditory visual fusing extends to certain other sounds and, I would guess, smells for a dog. I remember how our pug would be able to differentiate between the sounds of the school buses that flowed past our house and when she heard that particular noise associated with my youngest, she became excited with anticipation that one of her favorite persons would soon be walking through the door. Great post.

  2. I agree. I always liked being my dog’s mom, even if it is a corny description. It is not to hard to believe that dog’s show this kind of puzzlement and response, even without the science to back it up.

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  4. I remember way back in the 80s when I returned to the States having lived overseas – I had to send my dog ahead of me from Germany to Chicago. My dog was likely disoriented and dehydrated after that and had to wait in customs for my Mom to come and get him until I got back, Our voices were remarkably alike, and my Mom was calling Tsering by name…she said it was obvious to her that he was expecting ME and when he saw her instead he was totally confused (poor boy) LOL!

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