Can Dogs Recognize Their Moms?

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Introduction

As you get ready to celebrate your mother this May, you might start to think about your K9 best friend and their family. Do they remember their mom? If they are like most dogs, they probably haven’t seen her in years, and they haven’t given you any indication they notice. So, that begs the question, do dogs remember and recognize their mothers or the rest of their families?

Signs Your Dog Might Recognize Their Mother

It’s hard to say how your dog will react if they haven’t seen their mother in years. This is because scientists haven’t reported how a dog shows that they recognize their mother. We can assume, however, that every dog might act a bit differently, depending on their temperament. Once they see their mother, most dogs will probably start out the way they would investigate any other dog. They will start by sniffing her. If your dog is an excitable dog, once they’ve gotten a good whiff of their mom, they might start putting their ears up, wagging their tail, or even jumping up.

If your dog doesn’t get excited easily, they may be more cautious when greeting their mother, and they may need some time to warm up. No matter how your dog reacts, it’s important to be sensitive and not force anything. This can make dogs become agitated and uncomfortable.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog is excited about seeing another dog:
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Here are some signs you might notice when your dog is uncomfortable with another dog or the situation:
  • Acting cautious
  • Needing time to warm up
  • Aggressive behavior

History of Dogs Recognizing Their Mothers

Historically, dogs are family animals. Dogs’ oldest ancestors that we know of, are wolves, and wolves are pack animals. They stay in their family groups and have a hierarchy. So, it’s pretty safe to say wolves recognize their family members and have for potentially thousands of years. 

In addition, it’s interesting to note that even today, dogs can form strong bonds with their parents or siblings. There are many stories of dogs that are siblings needing to be adopted together from shelters because they are so attached to one another.

Science Behind Dogs Recognizing Their Mothers

There have been a variety of studies done on puppies recognizing their mothers as well as older dogs being reintroduced to their mothers several years later. While the evidence is still up for debate, it looks like dogs can recognize their mothers to an extent. 

According to Psychology Today, there have been several studies done on the matter. One of the studies took a large cloth that the puppies’ mother had been sleeping on and put it next to another cloth that another dog of the same age and breed had been sleeping on. In this instance, 82% of the puppies went to the cloth with their mother’s scent on it.

Another study mentioned by Psychology Today was done with older dogs that had been separated from their mothers for a few years. The results were very similar to the previously mentioned study. 76% of the puppies still showed a preference for their mother’s scent. They also reversed the study to see if the mother recognized the scent of her older puppies.

Guess what? Most of the mother’s did - 78%! That’s pretty convincing evidence that dogs can recognize their mothers and vice versa. However, some scientists are still skeptical.

Calming Your Dog Using Their Sense of Smell

As far as training your dog to recognize their mother, you can’t really do that - it’s something that comes biologically, we think. However, there have been instances where dog owners have used scent like it was used in the previously-mentioned studies to help calm anxious dogs.

Sometimes, when you have an anxious dog with separation anxiety issues, breeders will suggest putting a blanket or clothing item that belongs to the person the dog feels the safest with, in their crate or bed. This is supposed to help an anxious dog sleep better and feel calmer when the person or dog they feel the most comfortable with isn’t around. While this doesn’t always work, it is a good step to helping your anxious dog. It’s also a testament to dogs’ sense of smell, since that seems to be what most of the studies around this topic are based upon.

So, though your dog can probably recognize their mama, you probably don’t need to worry about sending her a Mother’s Day card this May. However, if you have the opportunity, someday, it may be interesting to take your dog to see his or her mother and observe how they react.

Safety Tips When Re-Introducing Dogs to Their Family Members:

  • Give each animal time to sniff one another out.
  • Do not force any interaction.
  • If one of the dogs starts showing fearful or aggressive behavior, end the meeting.