If you’ve ever gone on a prolonged trip, you might be worried about your dog forgetting you. Dog memory is pretty complex, but when it comes to remembering people, it’s simple. If your dog is close to you, it won’t forget you.
Even if your dog has a happy relationship with a new owner, it will still recognize and remember you. As for other people in a dog’s life, once a dog starts building up happy associations with someone, they’ll be a part of its memory too.
Do Dogs Have Long-Term and Short-Term Memory?
Like humans, dogs have long-term memory and short-term memory. Short-term memory is your dog’s working memory—that’s how it stays focused on a task. If something distracts a dog for thirty seconds to a minute, it’s distracted for good. That’s why you can’t punish a dog for misbehavior after the fact—your dog probably doesn’t even recognize that it ruined your couch.
But even though your dog lives in the moment, it does learn over time. Dogs file away things that they learn into long-term memory. Usually, these things are essentially “rules of life”—like when you grab the leash a fun walk will follow, or that a certain road trip leads to the vet. And dogs can remember these rules about people too. If someone is kind or abusive to a dog, dogs will recognize and remember that, and the more time you spend together, the stronger that long-term memory is.
How Do Dogs Recognize People?
Another part of memory is being able to recognize people. Dogs mostly use two senses to recognize people—sight and scent. They remember each person’s unique smell, and that, combined with the way that they look, helps them recognize people. If it’s been weeks, months, or years, your dog might struggle to recognize you because your appearance and scent has changed. Same thing when you’re coming back from a long vacation—your dog might take a minute to recognize you because you have strange scents that are getting in the way.
Can a Dog Ever Forget a Person?
Because dogs remember through association, if you have a positive or negative relationship with a dog, the memory is likely to last. That means that you could run into a dog years later and be recognized if your scent and appearance aren’t too different. But dogs don’t seem to actively miss their old owners for long—within a few weeks to a few months, they’ve made new long-term memories about the new people in their lives.
Changing owners can be traumatic, but luckily the trauma is short-lived. If you ever wonder if your dog still remembers you, don’t worry. It will remember you, and even recognize you but that doesn’t mean that it is stuck in the past. Dogs are very good at living in the present, and before long they’ll be making space in their hearts for a new owner too.
Featured Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutterstock