Do Dogs Remember Their Siblings?
- by Nick de Wit
Let's face it; adopting a puppy is kind of like selecting a new family member.
We love our little pooches a little more each day, and they likely feel the same way. So, when a puppy gets adopted into their new forever home, they usually have no problem adjusting to a new way of life, and this may cause you to wonder if your dog misses their mommy and siblings? As time goes on, you might even start to wonder if they remember their littermates at all. And, if they did, would they be able to recognise them in the park?
Although there haven't been many significant studies on this subject, researchers and dog owners suspect that, depending on their breed, temperament, and circumstance, there is a chance that some dogs do remember their family members. But to better understand this subject, it is essential to look into the history of dogs and their ancestors.
Where Did Our Dogs Come From?
In trying to understand a dog's behaviour, it is crucial to understand their history, and one thing that scientists know for sure is that modern dogs descended from wolves. Wolves have a very complex social structure; they too grow up with the idea of a "family", which is what we refer to as a 'pack'. Within each pack, there will be a leader, or alpha wolf, who should be obeyed at all times. Keeping the pack safe is a tough job, and so the alpha needs to be treated with respect from other members. Naturally, being part of this pack means being able to recognise all of its members; a mother needs to recognise its child and vice versa.
The exact point at which dogs became domesticated by humans is still up for debate, and many argue that their distant relationship with their ancestors resulted in a change in their survival instinct. Wherein being able to recognise the scent of their siblings is no longer necessary. But one thing is for sure; a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than humans, so wouldn't dogs be able to recognise their siblings by their scent?
Research: Belfast University
The University of Belfast in Ireland put this theory to the test. The test set out to establish one of two things; the first of which was if a dog would recognise its family member by scent, or by memory. To begin the test, the university assembled various litters of pups.
The first test involved a puppy that was only a few days old. The pup was placed in a room with various other puppies from the same breed and its mother. The test concluded that 84% of the time, the puppy would show preference to its mother. The mother was then removed from the room, and the siblings were placed in the same room with puppies from different litters. The results showed that 67% of the time, the puppy would prefer its siblings. Although the results were very conclusive and indicated that the puppy did, in fact, show preference towards its mother and siblings, scientists could not conclude if their actions were guided by memory or scent.
So, to put this theory to the test, they conducted a similar study, but instead of using the mother and littermates, they used a cloth that carried their scent. The results were almost identical!
Finally, the last stage of the study involved a group of older dogs. These dogs were around two years old and had originated from the same litter, having been separated at eight-weeks-old. First, two cloths were placed in front of the mother. One cloth had the scent of the puppy and the other of the two-year-old dog. 78% of the time, the mother picked the puppy's scent. The second test involved a cloth with the mother and littermates’ scent placed in front of the two-year-old dog. It showed once again that 78% of the time, the dog would pick the mother's scent, even after such a long separation. Unfortunately, when it came to the siblings recognising each other's scent, the test was not as successful. Siblings that had spent more time together and had seen each other frequently showed more preference to each other's smell, indicating that if the dogs had been separated for too long, they would no longer be able to recognise each other's scent.
Although this test has provided a little more information on this theory, it is important to keep in mind that it is not enough to render the results fully conclusive.
Signs that your dog recognises its sibling
Some dog owners have recognised a change in behaviour when their dog is around their siblings that could indicate they feel familiarity. Some of these behaviours might include a play bow, tongue hanging from the mouth and even certain signs of submission, such as rolling over to expose their bellies. It is also normal for your dog to go into sniff mode when around their sibling, as they are probably just confused as to why they recognise their own scent on another pup!
What can you do?
If you are curious about your pooch's family and would like them to meet their siblings, you can facilitate a reunion by contacting the breeder or shelter from which you got your puppy. You can even arrange a little family reunion a few times a year, if all parties are open to it! If the littermates are close by or near the area, plan to meet regularly to ensure they can be a part of each other's lives. The more time they have to spend with each other, the more comfortable they will feel.
Until dogs can talk, we will never know the truth. But from numerous reports, a dog's memory of its family is primarily related to circumstance.
The important thing to remember is that they love you more and more each day!