Can Dogs Remember Their Mothers?

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Introduction

Whether young or old, each May, we pause to honor our mothers and thank them for all they did to bring us into the world, nurture us and guide us. There is no love like the mother-child bond. But what about the bond between a pup and mother? 

Pups do not really have much time to spend with their mothers before they are separated. They must also share their mother's attention with their littermates. Do pups remember their mothers after a separation?

And, if so, will they still remember their mothers once they become adults? It's hard to know exactly what dogs do remember, but we are learning more all the time about the emotions and cognitive abilities of our best friend.

Signs a Dog Remembers Their Mother

We do not really know what a dog is thinking when reunited with their mother. There are owners who keep in touch with their breeders who will arrange play dates and they describe fun days of dogs playing together and a sharing of stories about their beloved pets. 

There are physical signs your dog will give you that they are enjoying their interactions with other dogs. Understanding the signs that your dog is engaging in a positive and playful experience can enhance the time your dog spends with others, whether related or not.

A relaxed and approachable dog can be detected by many co-occurring signals. The dog will look relaxed. They will have a low tail, tall ears and a mouth that is slightly open with the tongue out. Your dog may approach a situation with an alertness that signals they are checking things out. The alert dog has a tail that is straight out, horizontal. The ears are forward, eyes wide, and the mouth is closed. 

Play bowing is a dog's fun way to invite another for some romping. In the play position, the dog will have their hindquarters up and their front legs down. This happens quickly, before they break into running and jumping play. The tail will be up and waving broadly as if to say, "Come on". The mouth will be open with the tongue out. It's a happy invitation when you see these signals.

The stance of the dog is another way you can be alert to the dog's disposition at any given time. Watch the legs and feet to see how the dog is positioned for absorbing his environment and moving into action. What do we do when we are alert? We lean forward. So do dogs. An alert dog will lean forward, standing tall on the toes. 

A dominant dog will have a stance that is stiff-legged with the body leaning forward. The tail will be out and straight with ears forward and a curled lip. Sometimes, dogs will go into submissive position when they greet one another. 

The submissive dog will flip onto their back with an exposed belly. The tail is tucked and their ears are flat and back. The mouth and eyes are closed. If this is a happy reunion, your dog may do the play dog position.

Body Language

Some signs that your pooch remembers a relative, or at least is having tons of fun inlcude:
  • Low tail carriage
  • Ears up
  • Tongue hanging
  • Stiff tail
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More cues your dog will give when meeting other dogs are:
  • Relaxed posture
  • Leaning forward on their toes
  • Front legs up
  • Rolling on back

The History of Dogs Remembers Their Mothers

Well-socialized dogs were well-socialized pups. The socialization of the pup begins with the mother and litter mates. The neonatal period is the most important for social development. In this stage, the pup needs an attentive mother. This neonatal period lasts for about two weeks. Puppies are typically weaned from the mothers at six to nine weeks. After that, the social development continues with the litter mate interactions. 

Puppies need to stay with their litter mates until about twelve weeks of age to learn how to act. The rolling about, nipping, and playing with one another is all a part of the dog learning how to approach, take turns and interact with others. The pup learns how to behave and social rank in these first weeks of life. 

The development of senses may also play a role in the ability of the pup to recognize others in later adult stages of life. When the puppy is first born, the sense of taste and touch are present. The mother's touch and milk are the first sensory experiences of the pup.  At the ages of two to four weeks, the eyes open and the senses of both hearing and smell develop. 

Socialization develops during the three to twelve week period. At first, this means learning to play, then to explore, and finally, to become more physically coordinated and to learn to be housebroken. All things considered, the pup and mother do not have much time together but these early sensory experiences are critical to the social development and learning capacity of the dog. 

The Science of Dogs Remembering Their Mothers

Many believe that dogs cannot remember their mothers. They will point to the fact that a male dog will mate with the mother as evidence of the dogs having no recognition of one another. However, a dog does not have morality. A dog is still an animal with basic survival-of-the-species instincts and does not have the social moral constraints of people. 

When dogs meet one another in the flesh, we now know they will visually understand this is a dog and not some other animal. It is with their sense of smell that dogs will say, "Hello" and recognize one another. Peter Hepper, from the School of Psychology at the Queens University of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, conducted studies on the recognition between dog family members. 

At four to five weeks, mothers were placed in wire enclosures. The pups had been separated from the mother. When the pups were placed in the room, they found their mothers 84 percent of the time. The study was repeated, but this time, the pups were exposed to towels that had the scent of the mother and the scent of another female dog of the same age as the mother. The pups preferred the towel of the mother 84 percent of the time. 

These preferences were interpreted as memories of the mother. The experiments were repeated with dogs that had been separated from their mothers for two years. Surprisingly, the dogs preferred the towel with the scent of their mother 76 percent of the time. These studies are taken as evidence that the dogs do, indeed, remember their mother by her scent. 

Training Your Dog to be Social

The optimal period of socialization is during the formative puppy stage of three to twenty weeks. But what about the older dog? The Animal Humane Society recommends that it is important to continue socializing your dog during the adolescent phase of the first year. 

During this phase, keep introducing your dog to other dogs and to people. Take walks and vary the routes. Teach your dog how to be alone. Use gates and crates for periods of time when you are home so the dog gets used to having their own space. Do not punish your dog for fearful behavior. Instead, teach the dog other replacement behaviors and remove fearful stimuli. Continue to pet, groom and handle your dog. If you are bringing home an adult dog, you may not know the history of your new pet. By the age of one to three years, the adult dog may not enjoy playing with other dogs. 

If you do to the dog park and your dog prefers to hang out with you, this is actually normal behavior. If you want your dog to interact with others, go slowly. Start with one dog. Take walks with leashes. Keep the leashes short and the interactions short. Watch the dog behavior to determine if they are tense or relaxed before going forward with off leash exposures. If your dog is barking and misbehaving on the leash, you may need to first work on leash training before proceeding with the socialization with other dogs.

Safety Tips for Dog Interactions:

  • Do not take a pup away from the mother before 6 - 8 weeks.
  • Socialize your pup with handling and exposures to others.
  • Keep your pup from larger dogs.
  • Introduce your pup to other people and situations.
  • Teach leash behavior early to help your dog to be in control with others.
  • Be positive and patient with your dog.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Remembering Their Mother!