Can a Dog Recognize Their Mother?

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Introduction

There are fewer things as sweet as the experience of watching a mother dog and her litter of newborn pups. Mother dog licks them to keep them clean and stimulate their bodily functions. She nurses and protects them. As they begin to move about and explore, she keeps a watchful eye, providing discipline and instruction in how to be a dog. 

Her special scent becomes engrained in her pups' memories. As the pups grow into dogs that are separated from her, owners may be curious if the pup would know the mother. While dogs may vary in their recognition of their moms, some will respond as if in recognition of her.

Signs Your Dog Recognizes Their Mother

Dogs are naturally social animals. As pups, their mothers teach them how to interact with one another. They learn early on how to play and get along. While the mother knows the naturally occurring signs of appropriate dog behavior, humans have to pay attention and learn to take the perspective of the dog. 

Dogs show signs of recognition, social status, and personality in their interactions. As their leader, we need to watch for posture, stance, and other signs that may include vocalizations, tail position, gaze, ear position, and posture. Under your careful eye, you can prevent your dog from getting into interactions that are potentially harmful and ensure the play day is a positive experience for all.

With a powerful sense of smell, dogs rely heavily on scent to recognize others. They will approach one another by sniffing. In most cases, after some sniffs, the dogs will either engage in play behavior or move on to other activities or distractions. 

Dogs may show excitement when recognizing a familiar animal. You may see an eager invitation to play with play bowing, romping, running and an exchange in play, taking turns. Happy smiles, wagging tails and sideways glances indicate the dogs are having a good time. They may even pull their ears back to show acceptance. You may see some appeasement behaviors with one another in which the dogs blink and look away to appear non-threatening.

Dogs have abilities to tune into the social cues of others. Studies have shown that they rely on signals, including scent, facial expressions, and vocalizations. When you make a doggie play date, watch how the dogs interact. Their social hierarchy will be readily apparent. The dominant dog will stand with a forward pose, on the toes. The tail will be out. The ears are up and forward and the mouth will be closed. 

The dominant dog may stand over another and even nudge the more submissive animal. The submissive animal will engage in the formerly described appeasement behaviors of becoming passive. The submissive dog will allow the dominant dog to stand over him or her. You may even see the submissive dog roll onto the back and look away. The interaction should be very brief with the dogs separating once their exploration is complete.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog recognizes another pooch include:
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Running
  • Ears back
  • Blinking
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More signs that indicate your dog may recognize their mother are:
  • Excited behavior
  • Engaging in happy play
  • Being calm around each other

The History of Dogs Recognizing Each Other

Scientists remind us that animals have an innate biological drive to preserve the species. Mating behavior and survival behavior are critical for species to survive. As such, there are hypothesized notions that animals will protect those with similar DNA before guarding others. It stands to reason that, whether by smell or visual recognition, there is a deep biological drive for family members to recognize one another. 

Dogs in the wild have more time with one another. It is believed that wild packs have a longer lasting bond than animals separated within weeks of birth. Some will point to the mating that a male dog may attempt with his mother as an indication of a failure to recognize the mother. However, dogs do not have morals. Their instincts are to mate.

The Science of Dogs Recognizing Each Other

Peter Hepper, from the School of Psychology at the Queens University of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, conducted a set of studies to examine the capacity of pups to recognize their mothers. The study involved litters of Golden Retrievers, German Shepards, and Labrador Retrievers. The pups and mothers were separated. 

At the end of a room, the mother was placed in one cage. Another female dog of the same breed, age, and size was in an adjacent cage. The pups were about 5 weeks of age. The puppies were released into the room. Eighty-four percent of the puppies went to their mothers. 

The researchers repeated the experiment with towels that the mother had slept on. Again, the puppies were able to find their mother's towel based on scent. Sixty-four percent of the puppies went to their mother's towel. 

Hepper conducted additional studies with dogs that had been separated from their mothers for about two years. The dogs, again, spent more time sniffing the towels of their mothers with about seventy-five percent accuracy. The data were taken as evidence of memories from those early whelping box experiences.

Training Your Dog to Be Good Around All Dogs

Good dogs learn early in life how to behave and interact with others. From 4 weeks to about 20 weeks is a critical learning period. Until about one month, the puppy needs to be with the mother and littermates to begin to learn how to be a dog. 

Once you are able to work with the dog, touch, and pet the pup. Expose the puppy to a variety of sounds, places, textures, and people. These early exposures will help your dog to have a healthy adjustment and to not become fearful or aggressive. Teach your puppy to tolerate being alone. Give your puppy some alone time every day so your pet will learn that they are safe when you are away and that you will return. 

Prevent biting. When your puppy bites, say, "Ouch" and stop playing. The puppy will learn to control biting to maintain the positive experience of your attention. Teach your puppy basic obedience commands. Always be positive and patient with your sweet pet.

Safety Tips for Dog Interactions:

  • Monitor each dog's behavior as they meet.
  • If both dogs are not acting aggressively, allow them to thoroughly smell each other.
  • If things are still going well, allow off-leash play in a secure area.
  • Always monitor play sessions, and break up the dogs if things start to get too rough.