Doggy intelligence - can dogs recognise their own breed?

My beautiful blue eyed boy at Obedience on Saturday

On Saturday, Czar and I attended our first obedience class since finishing Beginners. We moved up into Class 1, me with some trepidation and Czar with his classic calm happiness. I was nervous about new instructors, a new level of difficulty, moving out of my comfort zone - come on, who actually likes change? Of course, it was different, but still great, and Class 1 proves to supply some new fascinating things to observe and learn. I got over my nerves pretty quickly.

Czar was very happy to be out and about, but was pretty calm in his approaches to other dogs. He ran around in the off lead area, but didn't bowl anyone over or behave like a maniac. He was enthusiastic but calm on leash approaching the training ground. He politely greeted several other dogs we've met before. He was totally unfazed about an older female putting her head over his shoulders - bonus of being used to Ishka's bossy ways. Really calm and well behaved. Until another female husky joined us while we were all assembling for class. Woah! Crazy boy! Czar went from polite sniffing to bouncing up and down on the end of the lead, crying foul play, trying to drag me over to meet this new girl. In fact, he became so badly behaved, that I relented and took him over to her. (yeah, I know, positive reinforcement of bad behaviour, but I could see him keeping it up for the entire class otherwise.)

Anyway, we went over, asked if we could say hello, and then, while the dogs were happily sniffing, we two legged folks chatted about our pups. I said something about Czar being such a ladies' man (most of the other huskies at obedience are girls, so I've been saying this quite regularly lately) and the other lady commented on her girl rolling on the ground for Czar - they were so cute!! (Sorry, no pictures, I had my hands full.) We both agreed that our huskies were ridiculous about wanting to meet other huskies. It wasn't til later that I thought about how funny that was!

Can dogs recognise their own breed?

A study published earlier this year produced very strong evidence that a dog can recognise another dog. A test group of dogs were shown 3,000 head shots of different dog breeds, interspersed with 3,000 pictures of 40 different non-canine species, including humans, but not foxes or wolves. The results reported said that the dogs were able to chose the dog face successfully. 

Given that dogs have more physical differences within the one species than any other creature on Earth, it is pretty significant that, even with smell and behaviour removed from the equation, the dogs could pick the dog pictures consistently. When you think about the differences between a Chihuahua, a Great Dane, an English Sheepdog, a Chinese Crested, and every other breed you care to name, they certainly have as many morphological differences as similarities.

I haven't been able to find a study that looks at breed recognition, but anecdotally, there is heaps of evidence. Anyone who's ever talked about their dog going to an off lead dog park will have heard things like

"My dog doesn't like breed X, ever since one of those scared/jumped on/annoyed him/her one time. Now every time we see an X he/she growls/barks/hides."

Given how strong negative reinforcement can be, I guess it would be easy for a dog to learn to associate a particular image with a poor experience and easy for a human to pick up on a pattern of reaction.

Its also worth considering how dogs respond to the human on the end of the lead. If a human had a big fright, thinking their dog was getting hurt or distressed by breed X, it is likely that the next time they meet breed X, they might tense up, get nervous or fearful. If that is communicated through the lead to the dog, it might trigger a particular response on the part of the dog.

Possibly Czar's response to a husky is not a personal recognition of someone who looks like him, but actually him choosing a potential playmate that he knows I will approve of (not that I don't like other breeds, but I stress less about him getting boisterous with someone of his own size, double coat and energy level.) I might even have conditioned him to seek out other arctic breeds by steering him towards other huskies at obedience, as I sought out friends or particular instructors who I could pick out of the crowd by their dog.

Something to watch out for! Please feel free to add a story in the comments about how your dog responds to other dogs of the same or different breeds.