Do Dogs Ever Think About What Happened to Their Parents?

Yes, it seems dogs are capable of recognizing their parents (and brothers and sisters) later in life if they were around them during a crucial early period.

By: robinelaine
Dogs recognize the scent of their mothers for up to a decade. By: robinelaine

An amazing thing happened recently. A child who was kidnapped long ago by a crazy drug addict has found her parents again.

It is the stuff that movies are made of, the sort of story that must torture parents of children who are still missing. Most of the missing kids will not be found.

The 23-year-old woman, Carlina White, says she always knew she wasn’t her kidnapper’s child. She didn’t have anything to base this on, other than a vague sense of knowing that something wasn’t right.


I cannot imagine meeting the mother you were stolen from as a child. And this made me wonder, do dogs and cats think about the parents and siblings they were separated from in early life? Do their mothers wonder what happened to them? Would they recognize them if they met them later in life?

Recognizing Family

A basic principle of evolution is that the fundamental driving force for any species is to reproduce.

Individually this means that a species will protect its close family members or others with similar DNA before aligning with strangers. You will protect your child before your sister, your sister before your cousin, your cousin before your friend, etc., because the closer the familial relation, the more of your DNA that person will share.

Thus, by protecting the closer family member, you are protecting your own imprint on the world.

So it stands to reason that nature will set things up so it is easy for people to recognize who is close family and who is a distant cousin, whether by smell, sight or some other deeply subconscious method.

Is it possible that other species have the same ability? The answer for dogs is: Yes.

According to the Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training (affiliate link) by Steven R. Lindsay, who is a dog behavior consultant and trainer in Philadelphia, dogs are capable of recognizing their mother and siblings later in life if they are exposed to them during the crucial period between 2 and 16 weeks, reaching the highest point at 8 weeks.

Here’s what Lindsay says in his book:

  • A 1994 study “demonstrated that offspring recognize the scent of their mother … after 2 years of continuous separation.”
  • Other researchers later showed “that dogs recognize the scent of their mothers after 6 years, and, possibly, as long as 10 years after separation.”
  • “They found that dogs could recognize the hand scent of the breeder for 4 years and possibly as long as 9 years after separation” with no contact in between.

All of this makes sense not just for kin selection (a fancy term for favoring your closest relatives first) but also to keep the species from inbreeding.

Love you, Mom. By: tkcrash123
Love you, Mom. By: tkcrash123

The Secret Lives of Animals

Do dogs feel any sort of longing for their family?

That, we just don’t know. However, there are many documented cases of animals grieving the death of their young.

Animals have secret lives that we do not know about. I know my cats think and know things that I will never be privy to. Although it’s easier for me to read my dog, Lulu, she too has her own thoughts and feelings that will always be hers alone.

I would like to think that Lulu’s mom is happily living with a family somewhere, quietly enjoying what must be her golden years.

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Leave a Comment

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this sweet, thought-provoking post. I have often wondered the same thing about the stray cats that have come and gone from my parents’ place over the years. I have always wondered if they were lonely and missed their family, and what the real story was.

  • Eric

    Sometimes it saddens me when I think about this. Even though animals in nature separate at a young age, I think it’s important to keep family together, and I would think that in the darkest of times, dogs do think about being in their mothers embrace.

    R.I.P daisy, love you always.



    • Kaycee

      They totally understand if you tell them you love them. Dogs are incredibly receptive to human communication. My boston terrier has learned lots of verbal commands and tricks using clicker training. My border collie looks up at the ceiling when I say “ceiling” and looks out the window at the park when I say “other dog”. Most importantly, they wag their tails (or in my little one’s case, her curly-q tail she was born with) and come up for a hug whenever I say “I love you”.

    • Kaycee

      Also, from a Christian perspective, I believe animals go to Heaven because animals never sinned- only humans. Not all Christians believe that, but I do.


    My labrador puppy Leila, gets to meet her sister this Sunday after a year and a half. I’ve often wondered if they would recognize their family, and now I get that chance. If she is as friendly to a fault, and plays like she is four months old, at 110lbs. Looking forward to watching them together, and of course I’ll believe they know each other. I’ll keep you posted!

    • Pets Adviser

      Aw, how sweet. Yes, please do come back and tell us what you find out! :)

  • Riccel

    When me and my dog visited her parents and sister. (Bought my dog thru a friend) i took her when she was 3months old. So i was saying. When we visited her mom dad and sister saw her , they automatically run growl at her and try to bite her.

  • monu

    i feel very sad .. after thinking over this matter … i really love my dog so much .. is my dog truly likes to stay with me …. or not please any one of you can answer to my question …. ????

    • Pets Adviser

      Just keep your beautiful pup happy and healthy, and YES, he will truly love staying with you, and will be the most wonderful part of your life.

      • monu

        thank you …. so much . for your quick answer … iam gald to know this …

  • 14truth

    I know sheep kin recognize one another. Why would a dog not have that ability?

    Although, I adopted a dog who was middle aged. The original owner lost a lot of weight so when the dog saw him a year later, he growled and barked. Continued this behavior even after sniffing… Struck me as odd.
    Conversely, the dog recognized my Mom and Dad even after only brief meetings and long seperations.
    I have to conclude it a scent thing: the owner’s scent must have changed radically with the weight loss, somehow. (Additionally, the dog always reponded negatively to that man’s family members, no matter how hard they tried to be friendly.)
    Perhaps my parents and I share a similar family scent, to which the dog was constantly exposed through being around me.

  • Kaycee

    One of my two dogs is fortunate enough that her parents and brother were owned by my husband’s family members. So even after leaving them, she got to see them again several times. Her parents were eventually rehomed due to their owners’ need to move to a less expensive apartment. But before that, when I’d bring her to visit them, her mother was particularly nice to her versus other dogs. Her father got a little wound up when she was in heat, but never actually tried incest. He was a good dog, and she inherited a lot of his playful personality. My mother in law still owns her brother, and they get along quite well- though he seems a bit more interested in my larger dog. 😛

    I would like to think dogs recognize their own offspring/parents/siblings. But I don’t think they miss them quite as much as humans miss their children.

    My bigger dog and I are soul mates- we’re so attached to each other, and she can’t stand when I’m away, even if my husband is around. I like to think I am her mom. I feel the same way about my smaller dog, but she has far less separation anxiety and seems to adjust to things more easily. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because she had a gradual separation from her parents rather than an abrupt one.

  • Tarie

    A friend of mine has been posting videos on Facebook of her rescue dog and her puppies. Tonight while watching it on my phone on the couch, my rescue dog who had pups (they believe while she was out on the street), responded in a way that I’ve never seen before. When she heard the pups, she cocked her head really far to one side, then really far to the other side and then put her face right up gently to the screen on my phone. She has never responded to sound on my phone or TV before. She kept trying to nuzzle the phone. Could she miss the pups that maybe didn’t live or were taken from her?