Do Dogs Remember Their Canine Family Members?

January 19, 2016

dogs remember jeffreyBy Langley Cornwell

Because our dogs are so much a part of our lives, we tend to humanize them a bit, calling them our babies, saying they are brother and sister even if they’re not from the same litter (I’m guilty of this with Frosty and Al), etc. We think of our dogs as family members and we know they recognize us easily. The question of whether a dog remembers and recognizes canine family members, however, is another story altogether. Some people believe that their dog remembers their original canine family members throughout their lifetime while others claim there is no way for this to be true.

One of the reasons we can’t believe that dogs remember their canine family members is because, as humans, we tend to moralize many aspects of a dog’s nature. For instance, we believe that if a pup would mate with his mother or sister then there is no way that he realizes the other dog is a family member. Nature is a whole different story, and it is important for us to realize that our dogs are not the same species we are, and they do not hold to the same code of morality that humans do. Their drive is instinctual. When a female dog is in heat, the pheromones and hormones will lead any male dog—regardless of family relation, size or breed—to mount her. So that is not a logical argument for or against familial remembrance.

Dogs are pack animals. Their parents and littermates are their first pack. The length of time the dog stays in the pack and how well they bond with these canine family members has a great deal to do with whether they will remember them or recognize them later. Just as a child can be adopted at birth and later meet up with birth family members without any real sense of remembrance, the same is true for a dog.

If two littermate pups are adopted by neighbors and see one another regularly, the dogs will recognize one another, they will adapt to the other dog (sibling) being a part of their life without necessarily recognizing the familial connection. They may dogs remember smerikalsee each other a few times a week, be buddies at the dog park and greet each other through the fence, but whether they know they are siblings is something we will never be able to determine. Unless, of course, they learn to talk and tell us how they feel.

With dogs, the scent of a person, place or other dogs will stay with them for a very long time. So while a dog may not recognize that he’s stumbled onto his long lost sister, he may do the sniff test and be comfortable with the dog due to scent memory; he remembers her smell because they were originally littermates. Dogs who have a scent memory of their canine family members will often find a dog they once knew at the dog park or on a walk and eagerly tug to greet them and play with them. The hierarchy of their first pack does tend to stay with a dog even as he moves on and grows up in another pack. For example, if he returns to the breeder he came from to visit, he may feel the need to challenge dad or snuggle up to mom, but that is not so much about familial recognition as it is pack hierarchy memory.

While we want to know everything about our four legged friends and understand them completely, this is a subject that I don’t think we’ll ever have a definitive answer to. There are too many variables, too many different circumstances, and as much as we may want them to, our dogs can’t just tell us.

Studying canine behavior has offered answers to many questions over the years. But there are some questions, like whether or not dogs remember their canine family members, that we will likely never have an answer to. I don’t claim to be the dog whisperer or anything remotely close, but my dogs drink from the same water bowl, eat their CANIDAE PURE dog food side-by-side, and even sleep in the same giant dog bed. They are devoted to and bonded with each other. Yes, I guarantee you that Frosty and Al think they are brother and sister.

What’s your opinion? Do you think dogs can recognize their canine family members? On the flip side, if you have multiple dogs, do you think they believe they’re related?

Top photo by jeffreyw/Flickr
Bottom photo by smerikal/Flickr

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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Comments

  1. I heard it is because sibling develop a different scent with different owners. I have 4 actual siblings from the same litter and their mother. I kept two puppies from the litter and two puppies were returned. We tried everything to bond them and if they had any scent memories, they vanished when those two pups returned home.

    I like to believe on some higher, maybe spiritual level they know each other, but not on a primal level. Just my opinion.