Can Dogs Remember Being Puppies?

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Introduction

Puppies are so cute and precious. They are developing senses and essential motor skills. They are also learning social skills and behaviors that will make them independent in the future. With the proper care, they will be healthy and adaptable members of their packs, leading to good adjustment to your leadership and family. 

Puppyhood is a time of important imprinting and learning experiences. Dogs are smart and have memory capacities. There are many accounts of dogs having the ability to recognize their owners, mothers, and litter mates after prolonged separations. Dogs who have been socialized as pups continue to be well socialized as dogs. Dogs who have been abused may have behavior challenges later and respond to triggers from those early abuse experiences. 

Those early puppy time experiences are a foundation to their future health and social adjustment.

Signs Your Dog Remembers Early Experiences

Dogs communicate with their body language. While they may vary by breed and temperament in the expression of their needs and reactions, there are common signs to watch for in dogs to understand their reactions. It is important to consider the situation in which you are observing your dog. 

There is always a context in which your dog is perceiving, reacting, or preparing to act. By becoming an astute observer of your pet, you can improve your management of the dog, keeping all safe and appreciating the personality of your beloved best friend. 

The experiences your dog may be remembering from puppyhood will be expressed in the dog's social skills and responses when introduced to dogs, people, or stimuli from that stage of your dog's development. We want to believe that the reactions will be positive and happy, but that depends on the quality of those early experiences and the length of time the pup was exposed to those opportunities. Keeping context in mind, there are a number of signs you may watch for recall and recognition from the time your dog was a pup.

Happy dogs look happy! They will appear relaxed in their posture and stance. You will see your dog open their mouth with their tongue hanging loose. Your dog may even appear to be smiling. 

If your dog is recognizing someone or something from the past, you will see your dog relying on the sense of smell. The dog will be sniffing the air as well as things and beings in the area. The nose will be wiggling and wet. You may even notice that your dog will lick the nose, keeping it wet to intake more scent. 

Once the dog approaches the memory, you may see excited behavior. There may an invitation to play, with a play bow, romping and jumping. Some dogs will actually cry and whimper in their excitement and bestow a kiss in the form of a lick.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog is remembering something from their youth include:
  • Jumping up
  • Sniffing
  • Whimpering
  • Nose licking
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More cues that your dog remembers something from when they were a puppy are:

  • Excited behavior
  • Eagerly greeting a person or dog
  • Responding negatively to bad memories

The History of Puppy Development

When considering what dogs may remember about being puppies, we might begin by understanding the important stages of puppy development. The experiences in these stages will shape your puppy to be healthy, adaptable and social. There are 8 stages of puppy development:

Neonatal Stage: Birth - 2 Weeks. At this point, puppies are deaf and blind. They sleep most of the time and their mother takes care of their needs for warmth, nutrition and keeping them clean.

Transitional Stage: 2 - 4 Weeks. The puppies will open their eyes and start to respond to sound, light, and movement. They will eliminate on their own. Puppies become aware of their mother and littermates. They also start to stand and crawl.

Awakening of Senses: 3 - 4 Weeks. Puppies now react to stimuli around them. They will startle at noises. It is critical to keep them with their mother so she can start to train the pup on how to be a dog. 

Socialization Phase: 4 - 7 Weeks. This is the time pups learn how to interact with others and to not bite. They are now understanding discipline from their mother. She will wean them and teach them she is in charge. The ideal time to start interacting with humans is between 5 - 7 weeks. You can handle the pup daily and start giving your pup small amounts of food while the pup is being weaned from the mother. 

Second Socialization and Fearful Phase: 8 - 12 Weeks.  Many pups go through a fearful period at this age. Continue to handle your pup. This is a good age for leash training and starting training for simple commands. Your pup will start to sleep through the night and show better control for house training. 

Juvenile Stage: 3 - 4 Months. Just like a teen, the pup may become more independent and test your authority. Continue to reinforce training and teach your pup "No Bite" or "No" and ignore the dog at moments of misbehavior.

Ranking Period: 3 - 6 Months. This is a stage in which the dog is testing ranking in the pack. This is the time to establish yourself as the Alpha. Continue with positive training. Your dog is also teething. Provide appropriate chew toys.

Adolescence: 6 - 18 Months.  Your dog is still growing up and is a pup. This is a period that can be a lot of fun as your dog will have much energy and you can take advantage of this phase to train and play games with your dog.

As you can see, while your pup may not remember specific events from puppy phases, there are experiences of care and interaction that condition your pup with skills that they will take into dog maturity.

The Science of a Dog's Memory

Dogs have abilities to remember, but their memory processes are different than humans. Dogs will retain the imprint of experiences. For example, a large object in the middle of the room may erupt into a loud noise that is frightening. Your dog will remember this experience and become fearful during future encounters with the vacuum. 

Dogs do not have episodic memory. This means that they will not remember specific events. They live in the now. This is why it does not help your dog to learn if you rub their nose in a soiling accident. The dog does not remember soiling and does not know why you are rubbing their nose in it. 

Dogs have a strong sense of smell. When they recognize people, other dogs, their mothers, or littermates, it is likely they had sufficient prolonged exposure to remember their smells and the positive experiences associated with them. 

Your training efforts must be sustained with repetition and positive reinforcement. There is much your dog will remember from the period of life of puppy development that, with proper care, will make your pet a good dog.

Training Your Puppy

As your pup enters the stage of socialization, this is a good time to start training for basic commands. The American Kennel Club has identified 5 basic commands to teach your pup. These are Come, Heel, Sit, Stay, and Lay Down. This is also a good time to teach your pup to walk on a leash. Here is some information to get you started in teaching your dog to Come and to Heel.

  • Come. Start your training indoors in a quiet place. Kneel down in front of your dog. With your hands out and in an inviting voice, say, "Come". If the pup starts to move to you, use praise and more encouragement. Don't grab or make movements that will frighten the dog. When your dog comes, use a small treat and praise your dog. Do this many times a day for just a few minutes.
  • Heel. Many owners do not take the time to teach the Heel command. They later have dogs that pull at them and are unruly in a variety of situations. Teach your dog early to heel as part of leash training. Place the leash on your dog and the leash in your left hand. Hold a small squeaky toy in your right hand and with it in front of your left hand, give your dog the "Heel" command. Your dog should start to move forward. You are teaching the dog to walk with you at your left side. 

"Come" teaches your dog to come when called. "Heel" teaches your dog to walk with you on the leash. These are the starting points to training your dog to be a good, confident, and obedient pet. Have fun with your dog and remember to always be positive and patient with them.

How to React to Your Puppy Storing Memories:

  • Do not hit your pup!
  • Do not take the pup away from the mother before 6-8 weeks.
  • Use positive praise, food, and toys to reward your pup.
  • Be calm with your dog and teach your dog to be calm.