While adopting a new dog from a litter of puppies can be very exciting, you may be wondering if your dog will be sad to leave their littermates and mom in order to join your family. While dogs do experience many of the same emotions as people, so
Dog owners—especially those who have adopted young pups—may wonder what would happen if their puppy was later reunited with their siblings or parents. Do dogs recognize their siblings?
Dogs do not always seem to recognize their siblings or parents when reunited. The likelihood of recognition is increased, however, if the dogs were older when they were separated. Additionally, their reactions do not seem to indicate that the dogs are suffering emotionally as a result of the separation.
Dogs and Memory
It is important to consider how dogs remember other dogs, people, and events. While the method by which dogs note the passage of time is not entirely clear, it is known that dogs’ memories work differently than humans. Rather than using episodic memory, dogs remember things based on associations, relying heavily on sensory details.
Though dogs cannot communicate their exact thoughts and impressions with us, their body language can provide insight into their feelings, including comfort, anxiety, recognition, and confusion. It is true that some dogs may naturally have friendly personalities; however, the way a dog reacts to a person or another animal with whom they are familiar will be distinct from how they react to someone they’ve never met.
To tell if a dog recognizes another dog, watch their body language. Your dog’s exact behaviors may differ—you know them best and know how they usually act around those they know versus strangers—but here are some signs that may indicate recognition (especially when they occur together):
- Your dog is very interested in the other dog.
- Your dog is very keen on sniffing the other dog.
- Your dog appears comfortable with the other dog quicker than with unknown dogs.
So, while your dog cannot verbally tell you whether or not they know another dog, their body language may help you infer whether or not they recognize a littermate with whom they are reunited.
Are Dogs Sad When They Leave Their Littermates?
You may just be curious about whether or not your dog would recognize their sibling even if it is highly unlikely that they will ever meet again—after all, the question of recognition would become clear fairly quickly after your dog encountered their littermate.
Alternatively, you may be concerned that your dog might be emotionally unfulfilled, pining after their “long-lost” littermates or parents. Thankfully, dogs tend to build stronger bonds with humans than with other dogs, and while the initial separation may be tough, they will grow to see their new human family as their pack.
It is true that puppies may cry a lot during the adjustment period they go through after they have been removed from their first home. However, this is usually because they are feeling lonely in general, not because they are specifically missing their canine family. To combat your puppy’s loneliness, it is a good idea to give them plenty of opportunities to socialize with you and to feel like a part of family, even if it is sometimes from the comfort of their crate.
Puppies who cry excessively may need more human companionship, or, in some cases, may have other needs (such as health problems) that are causing discomfort. If socialization and affection are not helping, it may be time to see a veterinarian.
Do Dogs Remember Their Siblings?
For a while after dogs are born, their mothers and siblings contribute greatly to their well-being: mama dogs provide food, warmth, and love, and littermates serve as playmates. While these family members can play integral parts in a pup’s development, dogs tend to bond more with their owners and human families as opposed to with other dogs.
While it is possible for dogs to remember siblings from whom they have been separated, this becomes less likely when the puppies are separated from their littermates at a younger age (e.g., between 8-11 weeks old). If the dogs were raised together for a longer period of time, the chance that they will recall their siblings is increased. Unless the dogs live together or see each other often, though, that memory will also eventually weaken.
When littermates are adopted together, it is possible that they may become emotionally over-reliant on each other (leading to issues such as those sometimes referred to as littermate syndrome). Because of this—and because of the increased time and effort required to effectively raise more than one dog at a time—it may be a good idea to only adopt one puppy at a time.
Do Dogs Remember Their Parents?
Relationships between pups and their parents are primarily just between puppies and their mothers; male dogs are unlikely to understand that the new puppies are theirs. Though male dogs can be gentle and affectionate toward puppies, that response is more likely to be due to the dog’s general temperament than any special parental bond he feels toward the puppies.
Puppies also do not have innate special bonds with their sires. They may get along fine and may develop affection based on familiarity, but they do not feel the same sort of connections humans might feel toward their own dads.
Puppies are more likely to develop connections with their mama dogs, but that is also not always a given. As with littermates, the likelihood that a dog will recognize its mother later in life after being separated largely depends on how long the dog lived with her before being placed in a new home.
Similarly, female dogs are more likely to remember their puppies if they live with them longer. Mother dogs may not develop the same type of affection or connection if they are separated from their puppies when the puppies are very young (before 8 weeks of age).
In general, puppies are more likely to remember their mothers than their mothers are to remember them, though, which makes sense considering female dogs can have many litters throughout their life: If a female dog were to become too emotionally attached to their past litters, they may not be able to provide the right amount of care for new puppies.
This does not mean that parent dogs do not feel some anxiety or sadness when their puppies are placed in new homes, but this is more likely to be due to their protective nature or a developed relationship rather than a close familial bond.
While it is possible for dogs to remember their littermates or mothers after being separated, they are less likely to do so if they are separated when they are younger. Even if they are able to recognize these canine family members, their memories will weaken over time unless they regularly spend time together.
This is not something to worry about, though, because dogs bond more strongly with humans than they typically do with other dogs. Although dogs cannot communicate their exact thoughts with us, it is clear that they do not miss their siblings or parents in the same way a human might.
It is true that when dogs are very young, they may experience loneliness and react in ways that may make you think they really miss their family. If your puppy is lonely and acting out and you feel as though they are driving you crazy, you may have the “puppy blues”. In addition to looking after your new pet’s health and emotional needs, it is important that you also look after yourself.
While your puppy may not be feeling torn up specifically because they are missing their siblings or mom, dealing with your pup’s sometimes-ambiguous emotions can be taxing. Thankfully, as they learn how to socialize, they will gradually become more confident and will eventually find their place as a well-adjusted member of your family.