Can Dogs Remember People from Their Past?

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What’s the scoop on dogs remembering people after years have gone by? You see images of soldiers returning home after serving their country in a foreign land, and the reaction of their dog when they seem them again is priceless. First, there s a lot of sniffing and then the dog is smothering their old guardian in doggy love. 

Does this suggest our canine companions can recall past owners and people who impacted their lives? What about the dog who was abandoned and then re-homed, via a shelter. Will that pup have a memory of being left on the side of the road? They say an elephant never forgets, so what about dogs? Do they remember people they haven’t seen in a long while? Read on to find out!

Signs a Dog Can Remember People from Their Past

The word so far is dogs have short-term memories, but with so much interest in the canine mind, new studies have come to light suggesting our wise woofers have a memory system similar to humans. They call it episodic memory and it means they can remember people theyv'e known in the past.

Now, we all know our dogs have many gifts. They can sense our emotions, mimic our facial expressions and possibly feel empathy for us and their doggy clan. Yes, the view of dogs has come a long way since that ”dumb animal” tag and thank goodness, as researchers have caught up with what dog owners already know. Dogs are intelligent, super-aware creatures that can perform amazing tasks and sense all sorts of things!

This new thinking gives credence to the multitude of heart-warming stories about dogs meeting up with long, lost friends. The UK Daily Mail featured a great story about a pup that had been stolen and after two years was reunited with its owner. The dog, called Chaos, had been given to a friend to take care of while his pet-dad got his life sorted after a divorce.

The friend refused to give Chaos back, and a few years later, an animal shelter called the man up to say his dog was there. They had checked the microchip and ID on the collar and, luckily, the phone number was still the same. The reunion between man and dog was a real tear-jerker, as Chaos knew exactly who it was. His tail was wagging like crazy as he jumped up and all over his master - barking and furiously licking his face.

Dogs with an abusive past are adept at remembering and may react negatively to the way a person looks. Your shelter pup may have an aversion to guys that wear a hoodie or seem distracted when they see a man with a beard. These are triggers that evoke a memory, so your dog might not behave well.

At worst they might growl, lunge and bare their teeth at a person they think mistreated them. Certain things can set them off. If your pup is frightened of a look-a-like past owner they might whimper, howl, and take on a fearful, submissive stance.

Body Language

Here are signs a dog can remember people they knew years before:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Lack of focus
  • Licking
  • Rolling

Other Signs

More signs a pooch remembers a person from their past are:
  • Growling at Specific-Looking People
  • Acting Submissive
  • Reacting as Soon as They See Someone
  • Acting Fearful

History of Dogs Remembering People from Their Past

Many moons ago, dogs were majestic wolves living in the wilderness. Along the way to a cozy bed in the modern family home, the domesticated wolf-dog was reinvented as a Poodle in France, an Afghan Hound from Afghanistan, and a Rat Terrier born in the USA. These are just a few of the 340 known dog breeds on Planet Earth.

Mankind had a blast with the doggy gene pool, composing a symphony of canine charisma that was so easy to love. Their immense loyalty has seen dogs wait for owners who may have passed away, while their intuitive talents have the potential to warn us a tornado is on the way.

Now, we are hearing they can call upon a memory from way back in time. One of the nicest stories told by the Daily Mail is of a reunion between a soldier and his Boxer named Chuck. The soldier’s wife was heard to say, “daddy's home,” and Chuck sprang out of their vehicle, making a beeline for the soldier. After eight months separation, Chuck wanted his pet-dad to know, how much he had missed him.

Putting faith in the new findings that dogs can recognize someone from the past, we see a story by the Miami Herald about a Rottweiler who had been missing for eight years. That's 61 in dog-years, so basically a lifetime of sorts. Duke was found on the streets of Miami and through his microchip, the rescuers were able to contact his pet-dad. Looking a little road-weary, he met his owner again. Within seconds, Duke remembered and soon the party had started with this massive Rotty licking his guardians face and rolling on his back in glee!

The Science Behind Dogs Remembering People from Their Past

To understand what’s going on in the memory banks of your beloved pooch, let’s take a peek at how human memorize and see how dogs compare.

The semantic memory is how we take in a world of information, from ancient history to the number on your mailbox or the date of your best friend’s birthday. Dogs share this with us, as they do have a procedural memory. This is the unconscious way we know how to decorate a house or play the piano. Our dogs may not want to makeover their kennel, but they have this memory in common. Their automatic response could equate to jumping in the car when the word "park" is mentioned or catching the frisbee when it’s thrown.

 We also possess an episodic memory that was thought to be unique to humans. These memories let us dig into the past and recall events and people. This gives us the ability to jump into our own personal time machine and recall data from moments we have lived.

For so long, experts believed dogs had short-term memories and were not capable of storing memorable data. The problem was how to verify if dogs had this ability. To test humans, all they had to do was ask, but until now, the likelihood of dogs having an episodic memory was placed on the science shelf.

We’ve mentioned a study showing dogs possibly do have the human ability to flashback to the past and now, researchers in Hungary have offered more evidence. According to the Daily Mail, a technique called “Do As I Do” was created to see how much dogs could remember. Pooches trained in the art were shown an action and then asked to “Do It."

If you are thinking a dog could remember to respond to a command in such a short time, you would be right, so, in order to test a longer memory response, dogs were taught to lie down once they had seen an action performed. After an hour had passed, the dog was told to “Do It” and the dogs recalling the earlier request responded by emulating the action.

It looks like our dogs can remember that day you picked them up for the first time or perhaps even their mother and siblings!

Training a Dog to Help People With Their Memory

The latest thinking is that a dog’s memory has similar components to a human's and they are able to recognize people they may not have seen in years. This is groundbreaking news for canines and their standing in the world at large. If our mighty mutts have sharp memories, their work with people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s will be invaluable.

The “Dementia Dog,” project started in Scotland when an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s got together with a dog trainer and saw the potential for pooches to help people with memory loss. Dogs are put through their paw-paces and then paired with someone who has dementia. Their job is to perform tasks - such as helping patients to wake up, get their medication and eat meals.

Dogs work on a long leash and are fitted with GPS so they can be tracked when they leave the home. If a patient wanders off, the doggy-caregiver is trained to follow their scent. It takes a special kind of mutt to be a dementia assistant dog, as they work with people who can't remember things are easily disorientated. Training inspires a protective mindset where they have to literally think for the patient.

Dementia dogs start with scent training so they form a connection with their handler or patient. An item of clothing with the patient's scent is used to train the dog, so when they finally meet, there is an instant bond. These wonderful service dogs are now being trained in the United States, at “Wilderwood Service Dogs" and allow patients with the disease to stay in their homes.

How to React When You are Reunited with Your Dog

  • Let them sniff you so they get your scent.
  • Wait for them to make a move - their life may have been difficult since you last saw them.
  • Once they recognize you shower them with affection and tell them how much you have missed them!

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Remembering Someone from Their Past!