5 min read


Can Dogs Remember Their Littermates?



5 min read


Can Dogs Remember Their Littermates?


Talk shows will often feature a demonstration in which long-lost siblings are reunited. There is the interview in which each expresses their sense of loss and longing to know their family. Next is the dramatic moment when they see each other, hug and there are tears! Within months, these reunited siblings often reveal that the discovery of the sibling is complicated. They have confused feelings. They may not even like this new person in their lives. 

But what about our dogs? They are born in litters and spend the first formative weeks of their lives together. Could it be that they too have a longing for their long-lost kin? Do they recognize their siblings? Do we know what they remember of their siblings?


Signs a Dog Remembers Their Littermates

Reunions are typically a happy time. Your well-socialized dog is expected to greet other dogs and to engage in friendly interactions. If all is going well, there is playing and romping. The dog uses the body to communicate. The dog's body signals reflect what they are thinking. It is important to be an observer of your dog's body signs to be responsive to the dog's needs. 

When dogs are encountering one another, there are body signs you will look for that would signal they are recognizing one another and the interaction will be positive. Dogs will greet one another by sniffing the behind. From there, the friendly interaction will proceed to a sequence of signals of dominance, submission, deference and invitations to play.

Dogs may appease one another with displacement behaviors. These behaviors will include blinking with their ears lowered. There may also be lip licking and head tilting as the dogs investigate one another. Play bowing is probably one of the most adorable signals that a dog will use with another - or even the owner - at play time. The front paws are extended while the hind legs stay erect. That eager play bow is usually accompanied by eager leaps of joy as the play time commences.

There could be a range of other behaviors that your dog will show when beginning an interaction with other dogs. In this description, there is an assumption that these are positive interactions. The body language would be very different if the dog were stressed, fearful or there was aggression. In the friendly play, you may find the dog looking curious and anticipating fun. Their mouth will be closed and their head will tilt. 

If your dog is very submissive, the animal may roll onto their back. A confident dog will show their tail high in the air, letting the scent wave about. A tail that is whirling about with relaxed body movement and a wiggly bottom signals friendliness. It has been noted that dogs will engage in reciprocity in play in which they seem to take turns in their activity.

Body Language

Some signs that your pooch remembers another pooch are:

  • Head Tilting
  • Ears Drop
  • Lip Licking
  • Blinking
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

Other signs that a dog is happy to see a littermate are:

  • Sniffing Hind Quarters
  • Smiling
  • Wiggling Their Bottom
  • Taking Turns With The Other Dog

History of Dogs Remembering Family


There needs to be more research on how dogs remember. Just from watching our own dogs, we know that dogs will imprint on the animals and humans who are close to them. Dogs form rhythms in which they can seem to predict things like when their owner will return home from work.  They can locate things like their food dish which we take as evidence that they have spatial memories. 

Of course, we can train our dog, which means our dogs are trainable. We are able to condition their responses to words and signals with enough patience, food, and praise. There seem to be questions about whether or not dogs can remember events or episodes. We do know, however, from our experience with dogs that were abused that they will react to triggers of abuse. 

Dogs do seem to recall their owners for extended periods of time. They can also hold onto memories from strongly positive and strongly negative experiences. Dogs seem to be susceptible to what is called memory decay. In other words, they do not remember sequences as long as humans or cats. In other words, even though they are so adaptable to routines and respond to training, they are pretty much forgetful about events. They tend to live in the present.

Science of Dogs Remembering Littermates


With humans who are from multiple births, there are repeated demonstrations of the twins or multiples having intense bonds. Some believe that their closer connection was formed in the womb. Others theorize that they had such close early developmental experiences that this fostered their intense bonding. 

When we look at dogs and their littermate experience, it is not surprising that there is an expectation that some biological imprinting or bonding has formed between the canine siblings. Peter Hepper, a psychologist at Queen's University of Belfast in Ireland, studied kin recognition in dogs. The research found that puppies could recognize their siblings smell for the first month or so. 

By two years, if the dogs were living apart, that was no longer true. The dogs did not recognize their siblings. It was interesting, however, that the dogs did recognize the mother's scent and she, too, recognized the scent of her pups. 

At this time, we do not know how long the memory of the littermates lasted before the recollection faded. There are no studies that demonstrate that dogs can recognize their littermates over time. If anything, if you are invited to a dog litter reunion, enjoy seeing the dogs play together and having a chance to exchange stories with the owners of the dog's siblings. It's probably more meaningful to you as a reunion experience than to the dog - who just got to have a fun day.

Training Your Dog to be Social


Dogs do not really have much time with their littermates. They are often adopted at about 6 to 9 weeks. This is an optimal time to begin socializing your dog. Up until about the age of 20 weeks, the pup can be exposed to a range of smells, sights, and sounds without becoming fearful. According to the Animal Humane Society, there are things you can do to teach your dog to be social: 

     Handling - Daily handling, gentle stroking and rubbing the pup by different people can increase the likelihood your dog will be social.

     Sounds - Expose them to new sounds, but do not overwhelm your puppy with household sounds.

     Food Dish Exercises - Teach your puppy to allow people to approach during feeding. When the puppy is eating, walk up and drop a treat in the bowl. This will prevent the dog from guarding the food dish later.

     Teach Your Puppy to Be Alone - Gradually increase the time that you leave the puppy alone so that your dog will not become anxious with separations.

     Train Obedience - You need to establish the Alpha and dominance but do so with positive interactions, praise, consistency and patient training. 

     Introduce Your Puppy to Others - Keep the interactions short and pleasant so that your puppy is not fearful of new people.

     Prevent Biting - provide appropriate chew toys. Do not play tugging games. If your puppy play-bites, say "Ow" and stop the interaction. This removal of attention will teach the puppy to not snap.

As your puppy gets older and is learning to be on a leash and compliant to your commands, expand the world for your dog. Take your dog into different environments. Introduce your dog to other dogs, pets, and people. Keep the interactions positive and safe. In time, your dog will learn to be social and have positive interactions with you, your family, and the community you share.

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Safety Tips When Your Dog is with Other Dogs:

  1. Stay up to date on vaccinations and the health of your animal.
  2. Leash your dog when in parks and taking walks.
  3. Do not unleash your dog unless it is a designated area and you have good command to call your dog.
  4. Teach your dog to stay calm with other dogs.
  5. Do not take puppies to dog parks.
  6. Pay attention - do not get distracted and forget to watch your dog.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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