Many dog owners ask: Does my dog know I rescued him? We have the answer for you, so you can put your heart and mind at ease.
Dog Owners Ask: Does My Dog Know I Rescued Him?
The answer to the question: Does my dog know I rescued him? is no. Dogs don’t understand being rescued. They understand connections with people, though.
Dogs remember the impact people have on them – either positive or negative. For instance, dogs remember people who treated them extremely well or those who abused them. How do we know this? Many canine behavioral studies have shown that dogs’ body language changes when they see a past owner or someone who looks like a past owner.
In the case of a rescued dog, this may mean that a dog that had a previous owner with a beard who abused him may act aggressively toward other people who have a beard. On the flip side, a dog that greets someone enthusiastically that he has never met may be remembering someone from the past that treated him with a lot of love.
How a Dog’s Memory Works
Dogs have associative memory, which helps them remember things they have learned through repetition or association. They also have episodic-like memory, which means they can recall past events as complex as human actions. However, this memory is short-term, and dogs do not have significant short-term memory. Memories of concepts taught when a dog is young may last for over a decade, even in an aging dog. Earlier memories seem to be more intact than later memories.
Dogs have impressive memories, allowing them to master tricks, commands, and routines. Similar to humans, dogs possess different types of memories that serve various purposes.
Semantic memory refers to the part of long-term memory that processes ideas and concepts acquired through general knowledge rather than personal experiences. Examples include knowing the names of colors, the sounds of letters, or the capitals of countries. This is why your rescue dog may already be familiar with basic commands from their previous owner. Such fundamental knowledge becomes ingrained in both humans and dogs and endures over time.
Another type of memory dogs utilize is associative memory. This enables them to remember relationships between concepts rather than just individual concepts themselves. You may observe this in dogs when they exhibit anxiety or irrational fears.
For instance, one of my dogs used to become distressed during rain showers. She would freeze up or hurriedly rush back indoors, scratching at the door anxiously. Sometimes she would even hide under a bush and refuse to come out. Although rain didn’t actually harm her, it’s possible that she associated it with a past negative experience—perhaps being abandoned in the rain before I adopted her.
Do Dogs Remember Past Experiences?
While we know that dogs can remember routines, tricks, and commands, we question whether they recall past experiences such as their previous owners or how they were treated.
Episodic memory is how humans replay memories like movies or TV episodes in our minds. Researchers have conducted tests attempting to determine if dogs possess this form of memory as well. Since we cannot directly ask dogs about their episodic memories, it remains challenging to confirm definitively. Nevertheless, some scientists believe that dogs might indeed remember experiences in this way—a fascinating notion to contemplate.
Expert Insights: Understanding Canine Memory
As we delve into understanding a dog’s memory capabilities, it becomes evident that dogs possess remarkable mental faculties. From the acquisition of basic knowledge to forming associations and recalling past experiences, their memory mechanisms showcase their incredible cognitive abilities.
According to a study cited in an article from the American Kennel Club, dogs use episodic-like memory to repeat their owner’s actions, even an hour after they first observed them. This suggests that dogs are doing way more than just repeating behaviors based on repetition and reward.
Another study mentioned in an article from Science found that dogs remember events much like humans do, and that their memories aren’t based simply on repetition and reward. Brian Hare, a dog cognition expert at Duke University, commented on this study, stating that it “blows out of the water the old way that most scientists would characterize animal memory.”
A New York Times article also confirms that dogs have a good memory, especially when it comes to remembering their owner’s actions.
Finally, a Scientific American article mentions that memory researchers agree that a crucial aspect of episodic memory is that memories are saved without the knowledge that they have to be remembered in the future, and that dogs seem to have this type of memory.
The Love Connection Between Dog and Owner
Researchers have found that dogs have a similar reaction as humans when it comes to love. When dogs and their owners stare into each other’s eyes, their level of oxytocin hormone increases. Oxytocin is referred to as the “love hormone”. It is what facilitates bonding between a dog and its owner.
Does My Dog Know I Love Him?
Yes, your dog likely knows you love him because of the way you treat him. Dogs love those who provide what they need to survive and don’t have a negative impact on their life.
Will My Rescue Dog Ever Be Happy?
Yes, it will take some time for your dog to grow comfortable around you, but once he/does the happiness will start. Just remember that your dog may be scared because of how others have treated him/her. Give him/her time to understand that not every human is abusive.
See also: Rescue Dog Crying on First Night
Read our article to know when your furry friend is happy: Is My Dog Happy?
Does My Rescue Dog Remember Being Abused?
Unfortunately, yes. Your rescue dog likely remembers being abused. It will take some time for your pup to forget the negative impact they had on your dog.
Do Dogs Miss Their Previous Owners?
Canines have an instinctual motivation to survive. If a previous owner helped them survive, they may react in a way that suggests that they miss them. It can be similar to the way they react when they lose someone from their pack. The symptoms a dog is mourning after losing someone they regarded as a pack member are:
- Decreased Appetite
- Decrease in Playful Behavior
- Increase in Sleep
As you can see above, dogs behave much like how humans do when they lose someone they love.
The question as it relates to rescued dogs is do dogs miss previous owners who were abusive to them? The answer is it’s unlikely because they recognize those people weren’t helping them survive. They were a threat and when that threat is gone – it’s likely dogs are happy about it.
The Impact of Rescuing a Dog
Dogs remember the impact people have on them and when that impact is positive, dogs respond favorably. So, when people ask, does my dog know I rescued him? He doesn’t exactly know it’s called “rescuing” – he simply understands that it’s a positive situation and the person that is now part of his life is one he loves because of the positive impact in his life.
As a rescue dog owner, that is likely all you need to know. When you shower your dog with love and give him what he needs to survive, he/she will see you as someone who in a sense rescued him from someone who didn’t show him/her love or provide.
Why You’re Asking If Your Dog Knows You Rescued Him
Now that you know that your dog doesn’t necessarily know you rescued him. He knows you’re providing for him and loving him better than possibly his previous owners. What may interesting to do now is ask yourself why you wanted to know whether your dog knows you rescued him.
When most people ask does my dog know I rescued him, it’s because they want to know if their dog appreciates the new life he has. The answer is yes. Your dog does appreciate you because he appreciates your love and care. Whether or not he recognizes that it’s called rescuing or not doesn’t matter. What truly matters is that you’re making a difference in the life of a dog.
With that being said, the same can be said for dogs that haven’t been “rescued”. Dogs purchased from a breeder or someone who did care for your dog will still feel that same appreciation. They recognize you’re loving and helping them live, which is exactly what a dog wants instinctually from the leader in a pack.
Do Rescue Dogs Remember Their Past?
Happy Dogs ~ Happy Owners
As a rescue dog owner, you are doing exactly what aligns with what Dog Ownership Guide believes in – making dogs happy. When dogs are happy, owners are happy. Give your dog as much love, security, and care as you have to give, and your dog’s reactions will produce the same types of feelings inside of you that he/she feels. Always remember, Happy Dogs ~ Happy Owners.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do resce dogs remember their past?
Rescue dogs do have memories of their past experiences, both good and bad. However, the extent to which they remember their pasts may vary. While dogs have decent memories, their short-term memory is only about 2 minutes.
Do rescue dogs remember their old owners?
There is no clear consensus on whether rescue dogs remember their old owners. Some experts believe that dogs can remember their previous owners, while others believe that it is unlikely. It is impossible to know for sure how much of what types of things dogs do remember throughout their lives. However, dogs may form emotional connections to certain stimuli, which then creates either a positive or negative association with the stimuli.
How long in the past can dogs remember?
Dogs don’t seem to have a long-term memory that last much beyond two minutes, as reported by National Geographic from a 2014 study.
- American Kennel Club. (2016, February 26). Dogs Have Episodic Memory, Just Like Humans.
- Science. (2016, February 22). Dogs Have a Memory Similar to Humans.
- Horowitz, A. (2019, September 5). Dogs Have a Good Memory, Too. The New York Times.
- Jacobs, T. (2016, February 22). Dogs Have Episodic Memory. Scientific American.