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Will my dog forget me if I go on vacation? Does my dog recognize me when I’ve been away on a business trip or away to college? How long can they remember me? As dog parents, we often worry that our pups might forget us if we are away long enough, but is it a valid concern?

Will my dog forget about me?

Your dog will not forget about you. It is true that dogs don’t have the same kind of running narrative-based long-term memory that we do. However, studies show that dogs do remember key events and often associate those events with anyone present.

Short-Term Dog Memory

Dog’s have surprisingly short working memories. They only actively remember about two minutes into the past. But that doesn’t mean that dogs forget everything they know. It just means they don’t ‘think’ back very far into the past the same way we do.

Humans have a far more complex system for managing short and long-term memories, and our short-term memory can store about 7 distinct ‘thoughts’ at once. It’s impressive, but it only lasts about 20 to 30 seconds.

Even though two minutes does not sound that bad compared to our 20 something seconds, it’s not a fair comparison. There are a couple of additional types of memory that humans have that dogs don’t. So, what kinds of memories do dogs have?

Long-Term Dog Memory We Don’t Understand

You would think we would know everything about humankind’s best friend. Unfortunately, we don’t. We have identified two types of long-term memory that dogs appear to use, and these affect how dogs remember their owners after time apart.

These are associative memory and episodic memory.

Associative memory is the ability to remember the relationship between two things. We see this associative memory at work when a dog jumps up at the sight of their leash. They know that the leash means a walk.

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As the name suggests, episodic memory is the ability to remember specific events. We used to think that this kind of memory was reserved for humans and only the most self-aware animals like dolphins.

New evidence suggests that dogs have episodic memory, or at least something very much like it. In addition, episodic memory plays a major role in a dog’s ability to learn advanced training skills.

If you wonder how either of these types of memory helps your dog remember you, you see the major gap in our understanding. We don’t know how dogs remember their owners, exactly. But we can draw the assumption that your dog has memories that associate you with good things like food, walks, pets, and playtime. They may also remember specific events involving you.

If you’re going on vacation and are worried you’re dog will feel abandoned, then be sure to read that post here: Going on Vacation: Will my dog think I abandoned them?

What We Don’t Know About Dog Memory

When your dog associates you with happy memories, they will remember you even if you’ve been away. As a result, they will be excited at your return and probably go a bit hysterical in welcoming you home.

Even though we aren’t certain why dogs recognize us, it could involve episodic memories. For example, suppose dogs form memories about their own experiences and feelings. In that case, they could associate those memories with people present at the time.

On the other hand, if your dog associates you, or another person, with a bad memory, it can leave an impression on them. Furthermore, your dog will likely have a fight-or-flight response to anyone that triggers a bad memory.

happy dog with owner

How your dog remembers you after you have been gone

Dogs can recognize people in a couple of ways. Their primary tool for remembering anything is by smell. And make no mistake, they won’t be fooled by a new perfume or body wash. Your dog’s sense of smell is keen, and they easily differentiate between even the most subtle scents.

Aside from their fantastic sense of smell, dogs can also recognize people through visual cues. That means that dogs may be able to recognize facial features and more. However, there is some debate about whether dogs can recognize their owner if their face looks different.

If you’ve grown a beard or changed your makeup, there is a chance that your dog won’t know it’s you by looking at you. But don’t worry, they will quickly put two and two together after a quick sniff.

Dogs can also recognize voices. Furthermore, they respond differently to their owner’s voice than a stranger’s. Fortunately, dogs can recognize a voice even when they haven’t heard it in a while.

All things considered, your dog is extremely unlikely to forget you. They have great memories with you, and sensory cues identify you as their beloved pet parent.

But what could a puppy possibly remember?

‘Hold on a moment,’ we can hear you say, ‘what about puppies?’ Puppies don’t have as many memories of you as your adult dog will. Likewise, like children, dogs don’t seem to vividly remember specific events from their youth.

Because we don’t understand how dog memory works, we don’t know if a puppy can remember their owner if they are gone for a while.

The problem is that many puppies often respond to humans with indifferent enthusiasm. Your puppy could be very happy to see you again. Or, they could be delighted to meet you for what they think is the first time.

What we do know is that the more time you spend with a puppy, the more likely they are to remember you.

How long does a dog remember a person?

The best we can offer is that dogs will remember a person no longer than two minutes and no less than twenty years. A person passing them by on the street could be forgotten after two minutes if the dog does not associate that person with something specific, like a smell or an event.

For an owner, unless your dog suffers from separation anxiety or another health concern that constantly triggers them to think of you, they won’t. Dogs live in the present, and when you are not part of that ‘now,’ you are not on their mind.  That is, unless they hear, smell, or see something they may associate with you, such as the sound of a car pulling up in a driveway.

However, even if your dog isn’t thinking about you in the present moment, they will recognize you for the rest of their lives.

We don’t know how their long-term memory works, but we know that dogs can remember their owner for the rest of their lives.

How do you know if a dog remembers you?

Different dogs respond differently to seeing their owner after time apart. But, for the most part, your dog will likely go completely out of their mind with joy and excitement.

Just watch this video of soldiers returning home and see their dog’s reaction, it’s wonderful!

Your ecstatic pet will be unable to restrain excited whining, jumping upon you, and smothering you in attention. They may even excitedly pee

That said, some dogs may simply respond with a head tilted to the side and an eagerly wagging tail. But, remember, their reaction doesn’t mean they are less happy to see you.

In whatever way your dog responds to your return, it won’t take long for your relationship to go back to how it was before you left.

Will they forget about me after a week?

No, your dog will not forget you after a week. Instead, they might not act as though you had ever left. If your dog doesn’t seem too phased, it just means they were secure in the knowledge that you would return.

Will my dog remember me after 3 months?

A very young puppy might forget you after three months. It all depends on how much time you spent together and whether they could form long-term memories of you. An adult dog will not forget you within three months and will remember you for years to come.

Will my dog remember me after 5 years?

Some people report that their dogs forgot them after years apart. But unfortunately, we don’t know if such stories are isolated incidents or something that can happen to any dog. It may simply be that the associative memories a dog makes aren’t as strong as they used to be, just like if you haven’t seen an old friend in many years.

We know that most evidence suggests that a dog never really forgets a person when they have positive memories of them. Often dogs are more excited to see their owner the longer they have been apart for more than a decade.

Will my dog remember me if I give them away?

Unfortunately, everything we know about dogs and their memory suggests that they will always remember you. That said, dogs don’t remember the way that humans do.

Some dogs seem to mourn separation from their owner indefinitely. In fact, there are definitely dogs that are so closely bonded to their owners that they will refuse to eat, and show prolonged distress without them. But, on the other hand, many dogs live happy lives with their new owners. In most cases, while a dog will never forget you, their ability to live in the moment will allow them to adjust well to a good home that meets their needs and create new bonds.

Summary

We don’t know very much about how dogs’ memories work. They certainly don’t think about the past the way we do. Instead, they live in the moment. Even so, dogs seem to remember people if they associate them with happy events. So there is some evidence to suggest that dogs have ‘episodic memory.’

It would explain why their memory works the way it does. Furthermore, it makes sense considering how puppies can forget people more easily. So it is plausible that they can’t form those memories at such an early age.

Regardless of how their memory works, your dog will never forget you. Even though our dogs remember differently from how we remember loved ones, they will always recognize their beloved owner.