6 min read


Can Dogs Tell Who Their Siblings Are?



6 min read


Can Dogs Tell Who Their Siblings Are?


The early stage of puppyhood is a precious time that sets the stage for the adjustment of the dog for the remainder of the animal's lifespan. The puppies in each litter not only came into the world at the same time, but they have shared in the whelping box experiences of being nurtured by their mother. 

As they begin to open their eyes and develop their senses, they are one another's first sensory experiences. They are also one another's first social experiences, learning how to explore the world, how to play and how to be a dog from one another. While we know that this early imprinting is so critical for the puppy to become a well-adjusted and healthy dog, it does not mean the dog will be able to tell their siblings from other dogs once they grow up and go to different homes.


Signs Your Dog Knows Their Siblings

Do you ever watch movies with talking dogs? It really can be fun to think about things our dogs could say if they could talk. When you are a good observer of your dog and the signs of your dog's reactions to others, it can be pretty clear that they are making their intentions known. 

By living with your dog, you and your pet know the routines for things like dinner or times to go to bed. You can also be attuned to what your dog is thinking by watching your dog's posture, fur, ears, eyes, and tail. When placing your dog into social situations, it is especially important to watch for signs of your dog's disposition in relation to the other dogs in the vicinity to keep everyone safe. Let's take a look at some of your dog's signs so you can let the play times roll!

When you take your dog to play with other dogs, it will be important to watch for ways the dogs interact with one another. Dogs will greet one another by sniffing the hindquarters. Most of the time, a sniff is all it takes and the dogs will move on to play or go their own way. Some dogs are more dominant. 

The dominant dog will stand over the other dog. The dog will be forward poised and may have hard, staring eyes. The dog may even nip a bit at the more subordinate dog. The submissive dog will send clear signals of surrender. The tail will be tucked in. The body will be low to the ground, even cowering. The dog will roll over with the belly up. The ears will be moved backward and flatten against the head. The dog may even urinate.

If your dog seems to recognize their sibling, you will likely notice some differences from the very start. Your pooch may sniff for way longer than they usually do. You may see their ears perk right up, and their tail may begin to wag, at first slowly, then working its way to a full-blown wag fest!

Your dog may instantly kick-off a wild play session, that will probably look a bit rough to you. Littermates are not careful with each other, and often yank ear, bop heads, and yip and bark a whole lot. It is likely that you will notice a far more playful side of your pooch when they recognize a littermate - even if they are both well into adulthood!

Body Language

Signs that your dog may indeed recognize a sibling include:

  • Alert
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing
  • Ears Up

Other Signs

More clues your dog will show that indicate they know their brother or sister are:

  • Beginning A Play Session
  • Nuzzling
  • Excited Behavior

The History of Dogs Knowing Their Siblings


Having a good breeder is important to ensure the pups coming into the world have the best possible early life experiences. The mother dog needs to have a whelping box or area that is quiet and gives her the space to properly fed, protect and supervise her litter. In the first two weeks of the puppy's life, they cannot see or hear. The mother provides them with their first source of stimulation by licking them. 

By two to four weeks, the puppy's eyes open and senses develop. The puppy is starting to move about and recognize both the mother and siblings in the litter. At three to four weeks, the puppy is beginning to learn how to be a dog. The puppies will explore one another. The age of four to seven weeks is a critical period for the social development of the puppy. During this stage, the puppy will learn not to bite. The mother will correct the dog if they are wandering too far. The mother dog is a good disciplinarian. 

Around the age of seven weeks is a good time to handle the pups and socialize them with gentle touch. During the age of eight weeks to four months, the puppy may be fearful when encountering new sights, sounds, people, and things in the expanding world. It is an important period in which to introduce the puppy to a variety of sensations and experiences to teach your pup to be adaptive. 

At about the age of three to four months, this is the ranking period. The pup may test your authority and this will be a time to be positive and consistent as the leader of your dog. Good obedience training is critical in the age range of four to eight months. Pups should not be separated from the mother and littermates before the age of about 7 weeks. 

As you can see, the siblings do not have very much time together in their physical and social maturation when they leave the breeder by 8 weeks of age.

The Science of Dogs Knowing Their Siblings


Our dogs are smart and can be trained to do amazing things. Our dogs can learn how to use their incredible sensory skills to hunt, to detect bombs, bugs, and diseases, to help us herd animals, and to be our helpers. They learn our routines and our body signals. Dogs can learn about 165 words and they are thought to have the intelligence of a child at about the age of two-and-one-half years. 

When it comes to their memory abilities, they do not have episodic memory. This means they cannot remember specific events. Humans may go to a park, meet someone, toss a ball and one week later, when they see the person again, we will remember meeting and what was said and done. This is not the case with dogs. Each meeting will be like the first time it ever happened, every time. 

While we would like to imagine that our dogs will remember their littermates and discern them from other dogs, it is very likely that they will not be able to do so. Probably the biggest predictor of their ability to tell the other is if they continue to live together or see one another regularly. If they continue to have time with a littermate, they may recognize one another based on smell and perhaps some facial cues.

Helping Your Dog Get Along with Other Dogs


According to the American Humane Society, the age of 3 weeks to 20 weeks is the critical window for socializing your pup. This period allows puppies to be exposed to a wide variety of sights, sounds, smells, and sensations without becoming fearful. When dogs are not well socialized, they become anxious, fearful and even aggressive. Here are things you will want to do to begin socializing your pup.

Handling. Gently handle the pup. Allow family members to have time petting and touching the pup. Hold the pup in different positions, nuzzle, touch the ears, rub the nose, and touch the body.

Sounds. Introduce different sounds - music, the television, children playing, appliance sounds and so on, so that the pup will not be afraid of noises.

Food Bowl Exercises. Teach your pup to eat from the bowl at mealtime. Put the food in the bowl. Offer for about 20 minutes, then take the bowl away. Do not allow on-demand feeding. Move the bowl while the pup is eating to prevent food bowl aggression later.

Teach Being Alone.  Your puppy will need to learn how to be alone. Make a safe space for your pup. Gradually increase the time the puppy is alone. This is important so that your dog does not develop separation anxiety.

Introduce Your Puppy to New People. Take your puppy with you when you go out so that your dog will learn how to act around others, to not be afraid, or to be too frisky. Set up pleasant encounters with others.

Teach Basic Obedience Commands. Start training your pup with commands to Come, Sit, Stay, Leave It, and Heel. Establish your leadership of the dog with positive praise and patience.

Prevent Biting. The pup will be teething and may try to nip and bite. Do not allow this behavior. Make a loud noise, like "Ow", and stop playing with the pup at that moment, as a form of ignoring. The loss of attention will be punishment enough. Provide your pup with appropriate toys for chewing and teething.

These simple and fun activities will get you and your pup off to a good start for a well socialized dog.

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By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

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

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