Dog recognizes owner instantly after he undergoes world’s first face and double hand transplant

Staffordshire bull terrier in the forest
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We’ve all had those moments where our dogs come running up to us as soon as we arrive home — they know that their parent has come back to spend some more time with them. 

Dogs can recognize familiar faces, and even identify their parents in photographs. And, if you’ve ever had your dog running up to you from a distance when you’re holding some of the best dog treats, this will all come as no surprise!

But, can dogs still recognize their parents after changes in their appearance? Well, Buster, a dog belonging to a man who received a face transplant, certainly did. 

Joe DiMeo made headlines in 2020 for undergoing the world’s first face and double hand transplant after sustaining third-degree burns in a car accident, leaving him with the face of his 47-year-old donor.

With three-degree burns across 80% of his body after his car was engulfed in flames, being left with no eyelids or fingertips, DiMeo required an intense 23-hour operation – one that had never been successfully carried out before.

And, after the surgery, DiMeo’s dog, Buster, recognized him straight away. He explained to his 200,000 TikTok followers in a recent video, “I got Buster six months before my accident so he knew my original face, my burnt face, and my transplant face.


♬ original sound - Joe DiMeo

“When I came home with a burnt face for the first time he knew exactly who I was and he stuck by my side. After I got the transplant my parents took him to the hospital to come see me and there was a group of people, but he ran straight towards me and stuck by my side too. And now he always sticks by my side whenever I'm around — he's always there for me.”

Dogs rely on their sense of smell much more than humans do, so this is likely to have played a factor in Buster’s instant recognition. A dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times stronger than a human’s, so a dog can easily differentiate their parent’s scent from anyone else’s — they make sense of their world through sniffing. 

DiMeo also has another dog, Kirkland. However, he’s a more recent arrival, and has only known his dad with his post-surgery face. Both Buster and Kirkland often feature in DiMeo’s social media posts, both on TikTok and Instagram.

Our pups are more intelligent than we sometimes give them credit for – here are 32 amazing things dogs do without even trying.

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.