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Can a Dog Remember a Littermate?

October 4, 2018

Although a dog's memory is not like a human's, it does share crucial DNA with the wolves from which dogs descended. Considering dogs are still pack animals, it is logical to assume that the longer a puppy stays with littermates in their initial pack, the better the dog's chance of recognizing their littermates (or mother) later in life. After all, wolves rely heavily on the pack for survival, so there could be innate behaviors that allow an adult dog to recognize a sibling. However, many researchers believe it has more to do with whether the puppy remained with the litter during critical months for socialization, rather than any type of visual recognition.

Because our furry friends are such an important part of our family, there is a tendency for us to humanize them while dismissing the fact that visual memory in canines always takes a back seat to their scent memory. In fact, it is estimated that fido's nose is somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human's. Scent memory coupled with pack imprinting suggests there is a good chance that your dog might recognize a littermate. Moreover, studies conducted at the School of Psychology at Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, concluded that based upon scent cues, a majority of young puppies are able to recognize their own mother as well as their littermates. Nonetheless, no one knows how long early scent memory lasts.

While pet owners will always want to understand everything about their best friend, truth is we may never have a definitive answer to this question. Some people have had dogs that truly appear to recognize and know their mother or siblings when they met later in life. Conversely, other owners have had canines that did not appear to recognize littermates or family members at all. Overall, there is no way to know for sure whether your dog can recognize another dog as a sibling. It seems a lot depends upon the individual dog and possibly how strong of a bond formed before they left the litter. With that in mind, it seems important to avoid separating a puppy at too early of an age to become a member of your pack.

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