Can Dogs Remember Their Siblings?

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Introduction

Once you take your puppy home from a breeder or a rescue shelter where they were kept with some littermates, it is likely your dog will never have contact with any of their siblings again. This can often prompt you to ask the question whether or not your pup can remember their siblings or if they came in contact with a sibling many years down the road, if they would recognize them, or at least be able to tell it was a brother or sister.

The answer is not completely clearcut, unfortunately, but we will do our best to explain the different theories regarding this question.

Signs of a Dog Remembering a Sibling

Dogs likely cannot make the distinction between what dog is a sibling and what dog is not a sibling. This means dogs do not have the ability to sit there and think, "this is my sister and I knew her for the first few months of my life." However, smells and scents can stick with dogs for a very long time, with some dogs for longer than others. 

Theoretically, if your dog were to come into contact with a sister a few months or years down the road, they may not recognize the other dog as a sibling, but they may remember their scent very well and feel immediately safe and comfortable with the other dog. This is because the other dog's scent is familiar. Dogs who have a scent memory may be able to feel more comfortable with a sibling than with another dog, however, this is not always the case. 

You can tell if your dog can potentially remember a sibling if they come in contact with a family member and seem to react to them differently than any other dog they have never met. For instance, they may sniff them more intently, seem more calm and comfortable with them, be alert and seem interested in their presence. On the other hand, your dog may not be able to recognize their sibling and not react any differently than they would with meeting another dog, and this is not an uncommon reaction. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog remembers their sibling:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you may notice if your dog recognizes their sibling:
  • Very Attentive Behavior
  • Staying Close to Other Dog
  • Acting Calm

History of Dogs Recognizing Their Siblings

Historically, dogs are pack animals. When they are first born, their siblings and parents are members of their first pack. How long your dog stays in their first pack with their littermates and how well they bond with each other plays one of the most critical roles in your dog's ability to recognize their siblings later in life, even years down the road. 

For instance, if a child is adopted when they are first born, they will not have any remembrance of their actual parents. If they meet their parents, unknowingly, later in life, there is a chance the child will have no idea who those people actually are - and the same thing can happen with dogs and their pack as well. 

Some stories of people meeting up with their dog's littermates later in life have mixed experiences. Some dogs seem to get along very well with their siblings, sniffing each other a lot, and getting right into playing without any conflict because it seems as though they know each other in a way. On the other hand, some people actually say their dogs were more likely to fight, growl, and bark at their siblings. 

Science Behind Dogs Recognizing Their Siblings

While some researchers believe a dog cannot recognize their littermates, there is some evidence to suggest this is not true and they actually can. Steven R. Lindsy has theorized dogs do have the ability to identify their siblings later in life and can also identify their parents as well. 

However, this is generally only the case for puppies who spent their critical socialization period with their siblings from when they were born to about 16-weeks old. Most puppies will go home and be separated from their siblings at 6 weeks of age. However, if they were with their siblings longer, they may be able to identify them down the road. 

Firstly, a dog's nose is about 10,000 times more sensitive than a human's, so it is very probable they can identify a sibling through their smell. Furthermore, there have been studies done that seem to suggest dogs have the ability to recognize and remember specific faces when tested. This means that if a dog can remember and act more excited when they see their owner's face, compared to when the owner's face is covered, there is a possibility that a dog can remember the face of a sibling of the same species. If your dog had a particularly close bond with a sibling, this can also mean they will have the ability to remember their sibling years down the road. However, this is all based on theory, and there is no proven evidence to confirm these beliefs. 

DNA may also play a role. Dogs have DNA just like humans do, so it may be in their DNA to never breed with a family member, which means they have the ability to recognize a family member/sibling. Evolutionary theorists contend all living animals are pre-programmed to make sure their DNA survives for the next generation of a family. So, in theory, it is possible your dog may be able to recognize and protect their DNA when they come in contact with a sibling. Although, this only matters if your dog is actually able to identify the other dog as a sibling first. 

Overall, there is no way to know for sure whether your dog can recognize their siblings or not. This may change depending on how advanced science becomes, but it can also be inferred with observing how your pup reacts when meeting a sibling later in life.

How To React If Your Dog Recognizes a Sibling:

  • Take a cute video!
  • Give them space to play.
  • Let them sniff each other.

Safety Tips for Dogs Remembering Their Siblings:

  • Make sure there is no aggression/competition.
  • Don't let them play unattended.