4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Family?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Family?


Dogs have strong emotional connections to their family pack. Their social tendency to relate to a group that they belong to is of prime importance to them. Your dog has a keen sense of smell and holds important smells in their memory. They will remember treats and outings with their family pack, and they will know the comfort of coming home where they belong. 

Dogs have become part of the social order of our lives and in the process of becoming domesticated, have become involved in family life. When you arrive home, there is nothing quite like the greeting from your fur kid, along with the rest of your family.


Signs a Dog Senses Family

Dogs let us know that they are happy to see their family with wagging tails and a good sniff. It is probably their sense of smell that is the key to remembering their family members. 

Familiar smells of your clothing and your body odor are etched into your dog’s memory bank. When family members come home, the smelling routine reminds your canine friend that they are part of this family group, and they are pleased to see you. 

Dogs are always happy to see their family members. Even if you have been away all day, they show they are happy to see and smell you. They are also conditioned to familiar sounds. The noise your key makes in the lock or the crunch of footsteps as you walk up the driveway, trigger welcome signs in your dog. If you are delayed or wait at the door longer than usual, your dog will know you are there and tilt their head to the side listening and waiting for your entrance. 

They know their family is there and they could anticipate some fun and maybe even an outing. The familiar routine of a pat on the head and paying attention to your dog as they jump around, happily wagging their tail, are all signs that your dog has sensed you are back with the family again. 

Body Language

Signs your dog can tell someone is family include:

  • Wag Tail
  • Ears Up
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs to watch for are:

  • Resting Their Head On Your Lap
  • Smelling Your Hand
  • Excited Behavior

The History of Dogs Sensing Family


Dogs have made their way into the hearts and homes of families. They have managed to use their desire to be part of a pack to gain the confidence of families and meet their social needs. Even when their family is separated from one another, dogs will still identify with the family home. 

When families were evacuated from their homes for the huge fires in Santa Rosa California, they tried their best to take their precious animals with them. The Weaver family tried desperately to take their dog, Izzy, with them as they left everything, and the fire raged across the area wiping out many homes. Sadly, Izzy ran off and the family thought they had lost her forever. 

After a couple of days, it was safe for family members to go and see if there was anything left of their homes. What a surprise waited for the Weaver family! Their home was destroyed, but their dog, Izzy, was sitting on the burnt remains of the front doorstep, waiting for them. 

Another family was reunited with their dog, Abby, after losing her for ten years. Abby remembered the scent of her family and some of the tricks they had taught her when she was first with them. This black lab never for got her family.

The Science of Dogs Sensing Family


Scientists have pinpointed an area in the dog’s brain that responds strongly to the familiar scent of humans and animals that the dog knows. They have found that dogs have a mental representation of their family members that stays with them, even when the family member is not there. 

In a comparative test environment, twelve dogs underwent some tests with scent samples. There was a comparison between the scent of someone they knew well and a stranger. There were scents available of the humans and household smells they were familiar with, as well as animal smells in that household. The control test consisted of smells human and animal from a household they did not know. 

The dogs recognized the smells belonging to the familiar family household. Scientists confirmed that the caudate neucleus of the brain in dogs, reacted to the familiar smells. Dogs use their strong sense of smell to remember family members.

Training Your Dog to Have a Sense of Family


The very important aspect of training and socializing dogs can be a family affair. Dogs and their families will benefit from spending time together and experiencing the training as a family. Animal behaviorists agree that the consistent training of dogs and adhering to consistent values make all the difference to training a dog to be a family member.

Being consistent means that everyone will stick to the same rules and use the same instructions. Attending the training sessions together will add value to including your dog in family life. Going on outings together will help your dog know how to behave in a car. They will learn how to walk on a leash, if necessary. 

If there is unwanted behavior that you are trying to ‘train out' of your dog, it is wise to bring in a dog behaviorist who can work with the whole family. Once again the consistent lying down of rules is vitally important to this form of training. Dogs are confused if one member of the family insists there is no jumping on the couch and another member allows animals on the couch. 

Sharing the family training with children is a great way to encourage family responsibility and have some good family bonding time with you and the dog. Training a dog does not stop at obedience and dogs love the mental stimulation of agility or tracking. This can be a family event and everyone, including your canine family member, will enjoy some mental stimulation. 

It is important to establish the rules from the beginning so everyone in the family is involved in the routine. Dogs and young family members enjoy the security of knowing that the outing and the togetherness of the family are intact. Training your dog to fit in with the family and travel in the car are important life skills, and everyone can enjoy an outing with a well-behaved, trained dog.

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Safety Tips for Dogs Sensing Family:

  1. Include all family members in training.
  2. Keep consistent rules.

Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 07/13/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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