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Will a dog forget another dog?

What Do Dogs Remember? Since We Can’t Ask Them, Our Canine Experts Have Some Theories

You may think your dog has an extraordinary memory. After all, she knows what time dinner is served, when to get a leash for a walk, and seems to recognize relatives who visit every year. So exactly what do dogs remember, and how?

«It’s proven that dogs have memories, but we aren’t sure quite to the extent just yet. More studies are underway and it’s very exciting,» says Hunter Finn, DVM, owner of Pet Method in McKinney, Texas.

Research is uncovering many facets of a dog’s memory, including how some canines find their way home from long distances or how a dog remembers a previous owner after being lost for years. What’s more, dogs remember dozens of words we teach them. «Walk», «ride», «park» or even family member’s names are like second nature to your dog. Here’s what to know about your pup’s memory.

How Do Dogs’ Memories Develop?

There are many types of memory, but according to Leslie Sinn, DVM, CPTD-KA, DACVB, one that humans and dogs seem to share is associative, which is a form of declarative/relational memory.

«It’s generally thought that dogs have associative memory—meaning, they form links or associations between two things. The official definition is: The ability to learn and remember the relationship between unrelated items. For example, leash equals walk,» she says. Sinn is a board certified animal behaviorist, owner of Behavior Solutions in Ashburn, Va. and a member of the Daily Paws board of advisors.

So when you use positive reinforcement training to teach your dog a cue like «sit» or «stay», they receive a reward and use associative memory to connect their action to your response.

Another memory ability is episodic, which is when you have the self-awareness to consciously remember something that happened to you. Because it’s primarily a human characteristic, Sinn says animal experts aren’t completely sure to what extent dogs might have episodic memory. However, some researchers believe canines—along with chimpanzees, elephants, mice, and squirrels—have potential. The problem? We can’t simply ask them to know for sure.

How Long Is a Dog’s Memory?

Sinn says Hungarian scientist Claudia Fugazza studied this theory, and the conclusion was canines have the ability to recall things over time, «although their performance begins to decline» during longer testing periods. This study also hints to the possibility of dogs having some type of episodic memory.

«We do know that a dog who lived in unhappy or negative circumstances will have anxiety and stress associated with certain cues, such as an item, location, or scent,» Finn adds. So, this likely supports the idea that dogs may remember some aspect of a negative experience, even if it’s just the feeling associated with being abandoned or left outside, for instance.

Do Dogs Remember People?

Sinn says the current assumption is dogs can have a powerful, positive association with a person that’s likely triggered by scent and/or recognizing something else about the owner—voice, facial features, and so on. This allows them to tap into that connection, even if they haven’t been together for a while.

«What we aren’t sure about is what memories are like that are formed without language. Is an odor or smell associated with memory a more powerful one? We just aren’t sure, but it’s an ongoing area of active investigation,» she says.

She references what she considers a fascinating study involving cats in which offspring recognize their mother by body odor long after they’ve separated. It’s possible this might play a role in how dogs also remember their parents and siblings.

Helping Your Dog Improve Their Memory

Unfortunately, as they age, dogs are prone to developing a form of dementia known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), which presents many symptoms similar to the human condition, including:

  • Altered activity
  • Changes in sleep-wake cycles
  • Changes in social interactions
  • Disorientation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased house soiling

Not all senior dogs will have CCD, but to help your best furry friend stay active and healthy, maintain a regular exercise routine appropriate for their breed type and keep their minds agile. Sinn says positive reinforcement training plays a huge role in associative memory and learning.

«It’s the foundation of what we do! ‘Sit’ equals treats, ‘come’ equals pets and hugs,» she adds. «In addition, we can use that ability to change associations we no longer want. For example, instead of strangers equating to scary, you can change the association by making it strangers means deli meat!»

Additional reporting by Jennifer Nelson.

Do Dogs Remember Who Their Mother Is? (and Vice Versa) – Based on Science

Bohemian Shepherd dog and puppy

Most pups do not live alongside their mother for long. They are usually separated at around three months old. But do puppies remember their mothers and mothers their puppies after separation?

Dogs can develop a mother-child bond early on because pups are usually heavily reliant on their mothers for food and safety. Thanks to this bond, dogs do remember their mothers through scent. Research suggests that a canine can remember its parents up to 2 years after separation.

Here’s a concise finding based on all research and studies about a dog’s ability to remember the mother, offspring, and siblings.

divider-dog paw

Do Dogs Remember Their Mothers?

Humans understand that no love is like a mother-child bond. Every May, whether young or old, people pause to remember and honor their mothers. But what about the bond between a mother dog and her puppies?

Dogs are social animals and follow a pack hierarchy. These creatures don’t socialize, perceive, or memorize events in their lives as humans do, so their concept of memory is a lot different than humans. Some canines remember their parents, especially the mother, but some just don’t.

A dog’s nose has close to 300 million olfactory cues compared to a human’s 6 million. This means that a pup’s ability to discern different scents is almost 40% greater than a human’s ability. Puppies can pick on their mother’s smell early on before separation and can use it to recognize their parents if they meet.

These animals also possess associative memory of repetitive events at best. Nevertheless, it helps them remember their favorite things, which means that the short time together gives mom dogs and their puppies some memory.

Puppies and mothers retain information about each other for close to 2 years. So, it only makes sense that if dogs can recognize their mothers, they can remember them as well.

mother dog and puppy playing

Will Dogs Always Remember Their Mother?

Since dogs can recognize and remember their mothers after a two-year separation, will they remember them long after that? Well, a dog is capable of carrying its mother’s memory from infancy to adulthood. It does so by recognizing a particular scent.

If you present an adult dog with a cloth with its mother’s scent on it, it’ll spend more time sniffing the specific cloth than a random one. Again, this is because something about the cloth feels familiar to it.

Do Mother Dogs Remember Their Puppies?

Humans may have imposed limits on domesticated dogs’ freedom, but mother nature has provided means for mom dogs to recognize their young still. A bitch (female dog) can recognize its offspring after many years, and it has little to do with memory.

Domesticated pups rarely get an opportunity to live with their puppies for years as wild dogs, so their relationship may not be that profound. Plus, a dog’s long-term memory isn’t as developed as in humans. But thanks to a biochemical process known as imprinting, dogs can form mother-puppy bonds. An essential player in this relationship is a “love hormone” known as oxytocin.

Imprinting makes scent and appearance psychological triggers for dogs. This promotes a sense of familiarity between a bitch and its offspring long after maternal instinct has faded. The more positively intense a formative experience is (especially the critical initial two months of their lives), the stronger the imprint, and so is the bond.

jack russell licking its puppy

What Prevents Mother-Puppy Bonding

The answer to a mom dog’s ability to remember its puppies is highly dependent on how long and proper her formative period with the pups was. If they had been together for up to 4 months, they’d likely form a lasting bond. However, dogs also have dysfunctional families that can be traced back to their formative years.

The ability of dogs to bond can be impaired if puppies are weaned from their mothers too soon. Or if they experience a chaotic environment during the sensitive formative period.

Bonding is not always the same for dogs that have had a bad experience and faced severe conditions during the formative stages. In this case, a mother and her offspring may not remember each other in the future because trauma interrupted their bonding.

Frequent interruptions in their early lives will inhibit complete imprinting. This is because traumas encountered during a dog’s early life cause aggressive and antisocial behavior later in adulthood. That’s why mother dogs have been known to kill their offspring in harsh-enough conditions such as starvation and predatory states.


Signs a Dog Remembers Its Mother

Family reunions are not the typical hugging and greetings among dogs. They do not squeal or leap when greeting each other happily, but there are ways to show they are pleased.

1. Relaxation

cavalier licking its puppy

Observe if your dog looks relaxed when in the presence of its mother. It’ll show co-occurring signs like a low tail, upright ears, and a slightly opened mouth with the tongue hanging.

You may notice the pup approach another dog with an alertness that feels like they are checking things out. The alert pup will display a straight horizontal tail with its ears pointed forward, eyes widened, and mouth closed. These signs show that a dog is relaxed, at peace, and very approachable.

2. Play Bowing

A play bowing dog is assuming a playing position to invite another for playtime. You may notice its hindquarters up while the front legs stay down as if bowing.

They bow so quickly before breaking into a jumping, running, and play. Such dogs will keep their tails up and wave them enthusiastically as if inviting. Their mouths usually stay open with the tongue hanging.

3. Posture


Watch your dog’s stance when it approaches a particular pup. For example, you may notice when it’s submissive to a dominant dog.

A dominant pup will assume a stance that shows that it’s alert, such as leaning forward and standing tall on its toes with the legs staying stiff. It’ll let the tail out and straight, with the ears pointing forward and the lips curled.

Another dog will assume a submissive posture when greeting the dominant dog by flipping onto its back and exposing the belly. The submissive pup will tuck its tail. Its ears will be flat and point backward while the mouth and eyes remain closed. This shows that it’s a happy reunion, and the two may start playing.


Will Male Dogs Mate with Their Mothers?

Don’t assume that mother dogs and their male offspring won’t mate because they can recognize each other. As much as the thought of a mom dog mating with its male offspring is cringe-inducing, the two can mate and even conceive.

However, the fact that a male offspring can mate with its mother during their reunion shouldn’t be taken as evidence that they have failed to recognize each other. They might be aware of their familial relationship, it’s just that dogs don’t demonstrate the same system of morality that humans have. The concept of incest is offensive to humans but alien to canines.

A dog may recognize its mother, but they’ll still mate because the reunion does not conjure up any taboo. Therefore, no thought whatsoever can stop it from proceeding with its lustful attempts.

What remains is that this romantic relationship between a mom dog and her male son will result in offspring with health issues. In addition, dogs should not be crossbred with their children or siblings to prevent issues like congenital disabilities.



When a mother dog meets her offspring in the flesh after many years of separation, you now know that they’ll recognize each other. They’ll use their sense of smell to remember each other. And if you see them mating, just know that a dog is still an animal and does not have morality as humans do. Therefore, incest, taboo, and social moral constraints do not apply to them.

You might also be interested in:

  • Stages of Puppy development
  • Why Isn’t My Puppy Eating? Here’s What to Do (Vet Answers)

Featured Image Credit: Zuzule, Shutterstock

Lead Pet Expert & Pet-ditor in Chief

Nicole is the proud mom of 3 rescue fur babies, Baby, a Burmese cat; Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway; and Mac, a Lab/Mastiff. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband and new baby daughter in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ know ledge with pet lovers across the globe. . Read more

Do Dogs Know Other Dogs Are Dogs?

Do Dogs Know Other Dogs Are Dogs? The study subjects.

Dog Spies

The experimental setup was simple enough: the nine subjects saw two screens, one on the right and one on the left with a divider between. In each trial, two images would appear simultaneously on both screens, and dogs were reinforced with a click and rewarded with a treat for approaching the «correct» screen — more on that in a moment. Here’s what the experimental layout looked like:

To find out if dogs could ID other dogs based on appearance alone, the researchers first had to create a common language with their dog subjects. They did this with the help of three training sessions where dogs received a treat only when they approached the screen that had a picture of a dog’s face. Importantly, the same dog picture was used throughout the training sessions. During the training phase, the other screen was either all black, all blue, or had a picture of a cow’s face. The dog subjects were not rewarded if they approached any of the other non-dog pictures. This created a common language: “You are rewarded for approaching this ‘dog’ image, nothing else.”

To proceed, the dogs had to approach the dog image 10 out of 12 times in two consecutive sessions, which is better than approaching ‘dog’ by chance. All nine dogs were able to do this. Common language secured!

Then came the test. Dogs were presented with a wide variety of never-before-seen dog faces paired against never-before-seen non-dog faces. As before, dogs had to approach the dog image and avoid the non-dog image to get a treat. This was no longer an easy feat as the dog images now captured dogs’ vast morphologic diversity in shape, color, size, head shape, ear position, you name it. On top of that, the dog images were now pared against a wide range of non-dog faces including human faces as well as domestic and wild mammals like cats, sheep, gerbils, cows, rabbits, reptiles, and birds, among others. Images were presented head-on (full face) or as a profile. Below are examples of faces dogs saw in the study:

The dogs prevailed! The nine subjects successfully identified «dog» from “non-dog” faces. Some dogs, like Babel, Bag, Cyane and Vodka, were able to do so quite quickly, taking few sessions to approach the required 10-out-of-12 dog images. Other dogs, like Bahia and Cusco, were slower on the pickup and took more sessions to identify “dog” from “non-dog” (dog subjects needed anywhere from 2 to 13 sessions to meet criteria). This is not to say, of course, that Bahia and Cusco don’t know a dog when they see one. The researchers highlight that a number of factors — like dog personality, learning styles and strategies, and motivation — can affect dog behavior and performance, particularly when it comes to this type of task.

Even so, the study suggests that despite their wackadoodle appearances, dogs can identify other dogs by sight alone. Dogs seem to have a sense of who (or at least which images) falls in the category of “dog” and who does not. Exactly which features dogs use when tuning into “dog,» though, the current study can’t say. They offer that as a natural next step in the research.

Autier-Dérian D, Deputte BL, Chalvet-Monfray K, Coulon M, Mounier L. 2013. Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris). Animal Cognition, 16, 637—651.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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