There’s a reason dogs are considered to be man’s best friend. Dogs are always happy to see you, even if you’ve been away for a long time.
Even though we don’t like leaving our four-legged friends for long periods of time, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Which can of course prompt the question: how long can a dog remember a person?
The short answer is as long as you show your dog plenty of love and attention for the whole time you know each other, they will never truly forget you.
The long answer is perhaps a little more complicated, depending on how old the dog is when you were separated, and how long you knew them for.
We also need to understand how a dog’s memory works in order to really know how long a dog can remember a person for.
How does a dog’s memory work?
Dogs are fascinating animals. Did you know that a dog has both a short term and a long term memory? They don’t work quite the same as a human’s short term and long term memories do, but they help dogs to remember who we are.
Ever wondered why your dog still looks happy to see you when you come home after a long day – even if they’ve had the trash out all across the kitchen floor? Or have done their business indoors? That’s because a dog’s short term memory only spans roughly 10 to 20 seconds.
The simple answer is that because they always live in the moment, they’ve completely forgotten about what they did while you were out. Which of course means there’s little point in scolding them because they won’t remember what they’ve done!
Dogs don’t have a long term memory in the same way that humans do. While we can remember events that have happened a long time ago in great detail, dogs’ long term memory works a little differently.
They don’t have these detailed memories as we do – they have something called associative memory.
What is associative memory?
Instead of remembering lengthy memories, dogs can remember how they felt when a certain thing happened – positive or negative.
That’s why dogs can be reluctant to go to the vets if they had a bad experience. It’s also why they get really excited when they see you. They remember how good you made them feel when you were showing them love.
So while they won’t be able to remember the exact events of you playing with them for hours on end, they’ll be able to remember how happy they felt to be spending time with you.
Interestingly, dogs are able to remember specific events that they may identify with a particular smell, gesture, voice, or movement that they associate with a certain emotion.
How do dogs recognize people?
You might think that dogs recognize us mostly from our scent, however, this is only partially true. Studies have shown that dogs actually remember us better using their eyesight.
A particular study in Italy discovered that dogs tend to rely on facial recognition in order to recognize their owners. As long as dogs have a pair of strong, healthy eyes, they should always be able to recognize you.
Scent recognition does play a big part in it, too. Did you know that while humans have 6 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs have a whopping 300 million olfactory receptors?
This means that dogs have a very keen sense of smell. In fact, they never forget a scent. So even if your dog starts to suffer from poor eyesight in their old age, they can use your scent to help them recognize you.
Dogs are able to remember scents forever. So there’s no need to worry – your dog will be able to remember your scent for the rest of their life, as well as the emotions they associate with you.
Can my dog remember its previous owner?
If you’ve adopted a rescue dog or taken a dog in from someone else, you may wonder if they can remember their previous owners.
Dogs can always remember their owners – especially if they spent a significant amount of time with them. There are countless stories of dogs recognizing owners after spending years apart.
However, if your dog was a puppy when you got them from someone else, they may not be able to remember their original owner. If they have spent a significant amount of time with you instead it will be you that they remember most strongly.
It all depends on how long dogs spent with their previous owners and how they made them feel. It is often the case with rescue dogs who suffered abuse that they are reluctant to come out of their shell.
Dogs can remember how their previous owner made them feel – good or bad – so if they see their previous owner again, they will likely act accordingly.
If their previous owners were kind and loving to them, and they had your dog for a long time, your dog will likely still remember who they are if they meet them again.
Do dogs miss their owners?
Of course they do! Your dog is always happy to see you when you come home from school or work because they remember the positive feelings they associate with you.
In fact, some studies have shown that the heart really does grow fonder with absence. Dogs tend to get more excited when they see you again after long intervals.
There’s even a true story of a dog in Japan who used to meet his master at the train station every day after work. Unfortunately, his owner died while at work, but the loyal Akita still made the trip for nine years until his death to wait for his beloved owner to return.
So there’s no need to worry about whether your dog misses you while you’re away. They’ll be ecstatic to see you walk through that door once you get home again!
So the short answer is that a dog will always remember you – especially if you give them plenty of love and attention.
Their unique memory will allow them to remember exactly who you are because of how good you made them feel when you spent time together – even if you haven’t seen them for years!
Your beloved pooch will always be happy to see you again each time you come home.