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Will a dog remember its previous owner?

Whether a dog can remember a previous owner is a common question for those adopting a rescue dog or bringing home a dog from a shelter. While dogs may not remember previous owners in the same way humans do, research shows that dogs can remember people they’ve become attached to for surprisingly long periods of time.

Quick answer

Yes, dogs are capable of remembering their previous owners long after being separated from them. However, the strength and length of a dog’s memory depends on several factors, including the strength of their bond with the previous owner, how long they lived with that person, and the dog’s breed, age, and personality.

How strong is a dog’s memory?

Dogs have excellent memories, especially when it comes to remembering people. Their memories are made up of associations – a scent, voice, mannerism, or routine that triggers the memory of a person. Studies show that dogs remember people they’ve become strongly attached to even years after separation.

Key facts on dog memory

  • Dogs can remember people for 2-5 years or more after separation.
  • Dogs remember people through scent and visual cues.
  • Bond strength impacts memory strength.
  • Routine also triggers memory.

How long do dogs remember people?

Research indicates that dogs can remember people they’ve become attached to for 2-5 years or more. One study found that dogs remembered previous owners even after being separated for over 4 years. The strength of dogs’ memories varies based on several factors:

Factor Impact on Memory
Bond strength Dogs remember strong bonds better than casual ones.
Length of time together The longer a dog lives with a person, the stronger the memory.
Breed Some breeds like retrievers have better memory than others.
Age Puppies under 6 months may not form strong memories.
Personality Outgoing dogs may remember more people than shy dogs.

Scientific studies on dog memory

Several studies provide evidence that dogs can remember previous owners and other people they’ve bonded with:

  • A 2010 study found dogs spent more time looking at photos of past owners versus strangers, indicating they recognized and remembered these people.
  • A 2013 study found that dogs living in shelters still remembered their previous owners after being separated for over 4 years.
  • A 2019 study showed most dogs living in foster homes remembered their previous caretakers after 3 weeks apart.

How do dogs remember people?

Dogs don’t think about memories in the same abstract way humans do. Their memories are based on associations cued by sights, sounds, scents, and routines they connect with a person.


Dogs’ excellent sense of smell allows them to remember people by scent long after they last saw them. Even years later, catching the previous owner’s scent can trigger positive memories.


Hearing a previous owner’s voice, either in person or on the phone or TV, can also cue memories for dogs. Some studies show dogs recognize their owner’s voices within a few notes.

Visual cues

Seeing a person’s face or even a photograph of them can trigger a dog’s memories of that person. Dogs are excellent at facial recognition when they have a bond with someone.


Dogs are creatures of habit, so they connect people strongly with routines. If you always walked or fed your dog at certain times, those routines can remind them of you years later.

Do some breeds remember better than others?

All dogs are capable of forming strong memories, but some breeds may be a bit better at it than others. Breeds known for working closely with humans, like retrievers and shepherds, have outstanding memories overall. Sight hounds that rely more on vision than smell and hearing may remember people by sight best. Herding breeds strongly remember routines and commands.

Breed Memory Strengths
Labrador Retriever Excellent long-term memory for scents, voices, faces
German Shepherd Strong memory for routines, training
Greyhound Good visual memory of people and places
Border Collie Remembers routines, commands, jobs exceptionally well

The impact of breed on memory

  • Working dog breeds have better memory for human interactions.
  • Hounds rely more on scent memory than other breeds.
  • Herding breeds recall routines and training very well.
  • All breeds can form strong memories of owners they bond with.

Will a dog forget a previous owner?

While dog memories can last years, they can eventually start to fade without reinforcement. If a dog doesn’t see, smell, or hear cues related to a previous owner, those memories weaken over time. However, some things that may jog a dog’s memory of a past owner include:

  • Hearing the previous owner’s voice or a recording
  • Smelling an article of clothing with the owner’s scent
  • Returning to a home or neighborhood they lived in with that person
  • Re-establishing old routines like walk times or feeding schedules

Re-exposing a dog to enough strong cues connected to a previous owner can bring back those memories, even after a long absence. But without any reinforcement, dogs will eventually forget people as those associations fade.

Forgetting previous owners

With time and without reminders, a dog can forget a previous owner. Factors that lead to dogs forgetting include:

  • Lack of contact over years
  • No reminders of owner’s voice, scent, home
  • Formation of new bonds that override old ones
  • Fading of associations like routines or commands
  • Natural decline in memory due to aging

Will a dog remember a previous owner after being rehomed?

Dogs adopted from shelters or rehomed with a new family can definitely still remember their previous owners, especially if the bond was strong. However, they can also form entirely new bonds with new owners.

A dog’s memory of a previous owner will be strongest right after rehoming. But the new sights, sounds, routines and people they experience will gradually take priority in their memory. Still, some dogs who had years and extremely close bonds with previous owners can clearly remember them even after rehoming.

Rehoming effects on memory

  • Dogs strongly remember their old homes and owners at first.
  • With time, new memories override old ones.
  • Strong, long-term bonds last longest in memory.
  • Puppies adapt to new homes the quickest.

While dogs do remember past owners, they can thrive in new homes as they form attachments. But exposing a rehomed dog to reminders of their previous owner can help maintain that memory if desired.

Signs a dog remembers a previous owner

How can you tell if your newly adopted dog remembers their past owner? There are subtle signs dogs display when they recall someone they’ve bonded strongly with:

Sign Description
Barking or howling May vocalize when hearing or smelling cues of previous owner
Attention-seeking May intently watch the door or follow you more closely
Cheering up May act happy, energetic, and playful when recognizing a reminder
Loss of appetite May eat less due to sadness or confusion about the change

Keep in mind that reacting to reminders doesn’t necessarily mean a dog is unhappy. But noticing these signs can give you clues into their past and help them adjust.

Responding to signs of memory

If your adopted dog seems to remember their previous owner, here are some tips:

  • Use reminders like toys or scents to jog positive memories.
  • Maintain old routines like walks if possible.
  • Give them plenty of play, attention and bonding time.
  • Introduce new routines to look forward to.
  • Be patient as they transition to their new life.

Should you remind a dog of a previous owner?

It’s understandable to want your newly adopted dog to bond with you and move forward. However, avoiding reminders of their past won’t erase positive memories. In fact, reinforcing those memories can comfort a dog during transitional times. Ways to mildly reminisce include:

  • Keeping familiar toys or bedding
  • Maintaining feeding schedules or walking routes
  • Occasionally revisiting their old neighborhood if possible
  • Playing recordings of the previous owner’s voice

While you want your dog’s loyalty to transfer to you, recognizing their past makes the adjustment easier. Let your new dog set the pace for leaving the past behind as they embrace their future.

Helping a dog remember

To help a dog in transition, avoid completely cutting ties with their past. Positive reminders to try include:

  • Using their old name, especially initially
  • Keeping familiar toys and bedding
  • Following previous walking or feeding routines
  • Visiting old neighborhoods periodically
  • Playing voice recordings if possible

These reminders can provide comfort without halting bonding. Let the dog show you when they are ready to move forward.

How long should you expect a dog to remember?

There is no set timeframe for how long dog memories last. It greatly depends on the strength of the bond, length of time together, breed, and the dog’s age. Some general timelines are:

  • Puppies under 6 months bond quickly and may forget faster.
  • Dogs can remember strongly bonded owners for years.
  • Senior dogs may have more vague or fading memories.
  • Reminders help maintain memories longer.
  • Most dogs remember people for at least 2-5 years.

Be patient with your new dog at first as they adjust to change. If you notice signs they remember previous owners, use reminders to provide comfort during the transition.

Stages of memory loss

Expect dogs’ memories to fade gradually through the following stages:

  1. Initial stage: Strong recognition of previous owner through scent, voice, sight.
  2. Short-term: Start relying more on vision than scent, less excitement at reminders.
  3. Medium-term: Bonding strengthens with new owner and home.
  4. Long-term: Only vague memories remain, triggered mostly by very familiar cues.

The timeline varies dramatically by the dog. Gradually introducing new routines and experiences helps the old fade.

How can you make new memories with an adopted dog?

While you shouldn’t try to completely erase a dog’s past memories, creating new positive associations helps strengthen your bond. Great ways to build new memories include:

  • Establishing set feeding, walking, and play times.
  • Taking training classes together to solidify commands.
  • Playing special games with specific toys.
  • Spending time petting or grooming as they relax.
  • Going on car rides, hikes, or new adventures together.

Repeating fun routines and activities regularly gives your new dog strong positive memories of you to hold onto.

Bonding tips

Here are some top tips for creating strong new memories with your adopted dog:

  1. Have regular petting/grooming sessions.
  2. Hand feed them部分meals.
  3. Take training classes together.
  4. Go on long sniffing walks.
  5. Play special games with designated toys.
  6. Wake up and go to bed at the same times.

Repeat consistent routines and enjoyable interactions to become your dog’s new loved one.


In summary, dogs absolutely can remember previous owners they formed close bonds with. Their memories are cued by scents, sounds, sights, and routines they associate with previous owners. While those positive memories can persist for years, they do fade without reinforcement as new bonds take priority. If you adopt a dog who seems to remember a previous home, gently use reminders to provide comfort while also focusing on creating new memories together.