Dogs recognize their pups as adults

Do adult dogs still recognize their mothers?

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I was at a faculty emeritus gathering at my university, and a small group of us stood around sipping coffee and nibbling on cookies while discussing topics that were neither political, philosophical, nor earth-shaking. At one point during the conversation, one of my colleagues took the opportunity to ask a question. She said, "I'm going to visit my dog's breeder this weekend, and my husband and I have been debating whether Siegfried [her Labrador Retriever] will remember his mother, Ashley. Since I am surrounded by behavioral people, I wondered whether I have any. " Did you have an opinion? "

The first answer came from a behavioral biologist who pondered, "Well, I can't imagine that dogs' Gout was very different from the DNA of the wolves they were descended from. The social hierarchy in a wolf pack is really based on It is set up so that the parents are of the highest status and are the pack leaders, which means that the pups must have an inherited ability that enables them to recognize and remember their mother simply because she is must be obeyed for the pack to function well. I would not be surprised if this recognition from the parents is accompanied by a sense of kinship and affection. On the other hand, the mother should recognize her own offspring as they are going through a phase of rearing in which her entire focus is on guarding, feeding and protecting the puppies. "

A social psychologist in our small group disagreed. She argued, "While it may be the case that family structure and kinship recognition are necessary for feral canines, this is not the case with domestic dog litters. Our dogs do not stay in a family group for long, but only after a few months the litter usually breaks up when the pups move into their new families. After that, the majority of pups will never see their parents again. "

Then she added an interesting twist to her reasoning, saying, "I am also impressed by the fact that there are some behaviors that seem incompatible with the idea that adult dogs recognize their mothers. In particular, it seems to me that Dogs Demonstrate This I'll give you the example that convinced me. When my dog ​​was around 3 years old, he met his mother again, although he seemed happy to see her fail to recognize their biological relatives. It took less than half an hour before he tried to mate with her! It seems to me that this is something he certainly wouldn't do if he recognized her as his mother. "

I felt a stab in my ribs from another faculty member who is also a longtime friend. I looked at him and he asked in a questioning tone that seemed to require my answer, "Surely you must have come across real empirical data that can answer this question?"

It took me a few moments to sneak through my memory, but I remembered a compelling series of experiments performed some time ago by Peter Hepper of the School of Psychology at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was a series of litters from puppies and their mothers (several Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds). At the time of the test, the pups were between 4 and 5.5 weeks old.

To see if pups recognize their own mothers, two cable boxes were placed at the end of a room. The puppy's mother was placed in one of them, while a bitch of the same age and breed was placed in the other. A puppy entered at one end of the room and the experimenter recorded which area he went to first and how long he looked after the dog in that location. The results were clear: 84 percent of the puppies preferred their own mother.

The second experiment changed the situation by moving pups from the test pup's own litter to one of the enclosures and pups of the same breed, age, and breed in the other. Again, the pups showed appreciation for their own relatives by favoring their siblings 67 percent of the time.

Hepper went on to show that it is the scent cues that are important in identifying which dogs a puppy was biologically related to. This was achieved by repeating the experiments. Only now did he use a large square towel that the target dogs had slept on for two days instead of having a real live dog in each of the wire pins. The results were very similar to the previous experiments. When the pups were given a choice between a fabric impregnated with their mother's scent or one impregnated with the scent of a similarly aged, unknown woman of the same breed, 82 percent showed a preference for their mother's scent. When the pups were given the choice of a fabric impregnated with their sibling's odor versus a fabric impregnated with the odor of a dog of similar age and breed but from a different litter, 70 percent showed a preference for the odor of their littermates.

The results of these two experiments clearly show that young pups recognize their own mother and littermates, and it also shows that this recognition is based on olfactory signals.

The question my colleague actually asked, however, is whether the pups will still recognize their birth mother when they grow up. This indicates that testing should be done on adult dogs rather than young puppies. For this purpose, Hepper collected a group of dogs that were around 2 years old. These dogs had been separated from their mother at about 8 weeks of age and had not seen her again at the time of the test. He then repeated the previous experiments, starting with an assessment of whether the mother dogs still recognized their offspring after all this time, solely on the basis of the smell.

The results were pretty clear: 78 percent of mothers sniffed the substance containing the scent of their offspring longer than the scent of an unknown dog of the same breed, age, and sex. This is how dog mothers obviously recognize their offspring even after they grow up and after a long separation.

To determine whether the offspring can still recognize their mothers, the experiment has now been revised so that the targeted odor was that of the mother of the dog compared to another bitch of the same breed and of the same age. The results were almost the same as for the mothers who recognized their offspring. 76 percent of the dogs preferred the cloth impregnated with their mother's scent. That was impressive because the puppies had grown up and hadn't seen their mother for about two years.

"Well," I explained to my colleague, "at least as far as the data is concerned, it seems to be clear that a dog still recognizes its birth mother as an adult."

"While this answers the initial question (about a dog's ability to remember its mother after a long breakup), it doesn't tell us how this now-adult puppy will behave about its mother, once they are finally reunited According to the beliefs of our social psychologist here, the fact that a male offspring might attempt to mate with his mother during his reunification should not be taken as evidence that he did not recognize her as his parents, rather than showing that he is unaware of his family relationship with his mother, it simply shows the fact that dogs do not have the same system of morality that is accepted by humans. In particular, it tells us that the concept of incest, although it is repugnant to humans, dogs are completely alien, even if the dog realizes that the dog it has met is is his mother, he does not awaken any taboo that could stop his attempts at love. "

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including gods, ghosts and black dogs; The wisdom of dogs; Do dogs dream? Born to Bark; The modern dog; Why do dogs have wet noses? The paw prints of history; Think like dogs; How to speak dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What do dogs know? The intelligence of dogs; Why does my dog ​​behave like this? Understand dogs for dummies; Sleep thieves; and left-handed syndrome.

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Hepper, Peter G. (1994). Long-term retention of kinship recognition in infancy in domestic dogs. Behavioral Processes, 33 (1-2), [Special Issue: Individual and Social Recognition] pp. 3-14.