No one gets a dog with the intention of surrendering or rehoming them. Still, it’s a common occurrence. Many dogs have more than one owner in their lifetime. This can leave you wondering, does a dog forget their previous owner? 

A temporary absence can also raise these questions. I once had to leave my Shepherd for a week while I was recovering in the hospital. He barely ate. He watched out the window for me frequently. He was clearly sad, and we were both very happy when I got back home. I didn’t worry that he would forget me, but I did worry about the grief he seemed to be experiencing in my absence. 

Do dogs forget their owners?

Perhaps you can no longer keep your dog and you need to rehome them. Perhaps you are simply going on vacation, and are worried your dog will forget about you. These situations raise the question, do dogs forget their owners?

Dog’s Don’t Forget

The news, for better or worse, is that dogs do remember their owners. There are many reports of military personnel being deployed for a year or longer, and their dog being ecstatic when they finally return home. 

How Dogs Remember

Dogs remember through association. Your dog may forget that you took them for a walk every day after lunch, but they will remember that you had happy times together. 

Dogs usually recognize owners who return by scent or their face. If your dog doesn’t recognize you immediately, it may only take a smell for them to celebrate your return. 

How long does it take a dog to forget their owner?

Dogs don’t have a concept of time like humans do. Perhaps this plays a role in them not forgetting their owners. Based on research, it’s believed that dogs never forget their owners. 

How Long Does it Take a Dog to Adjust to a New Home? 

Dogs never forget their owners, but they will adjust to a new home. Unfortunately, there’s no set time limit on how long it takes. Puppies under 3 months old adjust quickly, within days to weeks. 

The older the dog is, and the stronger the bond between dog and owner, the more time it can take the dog to adjust. 

How Does a Dog Cope After Being Neglected?

You may assume that a dog who was mistreated by a previous owner would adjust very quickly to a safe and caring home. Dogs are extremely loyal animals. 

They don’t possess concepts like morality and the right to be treated humanely. They will remember if their owner causes them pain, but they will likely still love them. If they were physically taken care of but didn’t get much social or emotional interaction, they may find the transition easier. 

Any time a dog has been mistreated by an owner, whether through neglect or abuse, it will be hard for them to trust a new owner. It requires lots of love and patience to help the dog through the adjustment process. 

However, once they are fully adjusted, you’ll find that they are the most loving, loyal, and grateful dog you could ask for. 

How long can a dog remember a person?

Similar to humans, it seems that absence does make the heart grow fonder. The longer you are away, the happier your dog will be to see you again. Dogs never forget owners. When it comes to acquaintances, the answer isn’t as clear. 

Do Dogs Remember Acquaintances? 

It’s difficult to pinpoint how long a dog can remember someone they’ve met, but aren’t intimately attached to. They can remember other dogs for several weeks, so it’s likely they can remember people for that long as well. 

Do dogs get sad when they change owners?

Yes. It’s common for a dog to get sad when it changes owners. Sometimes, there are no other options available, and the dog has to go to a new home. As sad as it is for the previous owner, it can be very difficult for the dog. 

How Do Dogs Know They’ve Lost Their Owner? 

Dogs seem to know the difference between a temporary separation, like going to work, and the loss of their owner, despite a very limited concept of time. 

It’s believed this is because the dog notices changes in its environment and routine. It no longer sees, smells, or hears its owner. Someone new is feeding them and taking them for walks. 

This still doesn’t explain how dogs seem to sense when something is wrong, and their owner is gone for good, or for a long time. Dogs often grieve when their owner is in the hospital, even for a short time. Many seem to know the moment to expect their owner home at the end of the day. Many people believe that dogs possess a sixth sense that may tell them when something is wrong with their owner. 

Do Dogs Grieve? 

It’s difficult to determine exactly how closely a dog’s feelings of grief mimic the human experience. However, research and anecdotal evidence have come to the same conclusion. Dogs grieve when they lose their owner. 

Brain scans have shown that the same areas of the brain are activated in human grieving as in dogs, suggesting that they have similar feelings. 

Grief in dogs is defined as behavior that is very different from their routine. A happy, energetic dog may suddenly be lethargic and unenthusiastic, for example. A dog that was a healthy eater may refuse food and lose weight. The behaviors may be different than those of people.

A person may cry, while a dog may spend hours staring longingly out a window. But the feelings underlying the behavior seem to have a lot in common. 

Just like a grieving person, no two dogs will grieve in the same way. Signs your dog is grieving include whining, barking, and pacing. In addition to loss of appetite and fatigue, your dog may be clingy or desire space. 

Do dogs miss their owners?

Yes, dogs miss their owners. This can leave you wondering if you should ever leave your dog’s presence. At least for more than a day. The good news is you can help your dog cope with your temporary absence. 

Do Dogs Feel Abandoned?

We know that dogs grieve the loss of an owner, but what happens when you leave temporarily? You can’t explain to your dog that you’ll only be gone for a week. 

Leaving your dog is actually quite similar to leaving a small child. A toddler doesn’t know the difference between a week and an hour. They simply know you are gone. While they may have some understanding that you’ll return, there can still be some fear. 

However, not having a concrete concept of time can be a blessing in disguise. If your toddler attends daycare every day, they know that you leave, and that you come back. 

The same can be true for your dog. If you leave the house and come back regularly, this can reassure them that you aren’t abandoning them. 

Stay Positive

Your dog will pick up on your emotions. If you are sad or anxious, this will add to your dog’s feelings of fear and unease. No matter what the reason for the separation is, be sure to stay upbeat. 

Make Extra Time

Spend some extra time with your dog before your absence. This can ease your pet’s mind when you’re gone. It also helps strengthen the bond between you.

Familiarity

The more familiarity you can give your dog in your absence, the better. If you can find someone to come to your home to dog sit, this may be ideal for some dogs. Other dogs may prefer the socialization of being boarded or staying with a trusted friend. 

No matter where your dog will be staying, it’s best to familiarize them with their temporary caregiver and the location, if it’s not your home. A few visits before you leave will ensure that your pet doesn’t feel they are left with a stranger. 

You can also send a few items with your dog. This may be an old t-shirt you’ve worn, or a pair of socks. Dogs love anything with their owner’s smell, and socks tend to have an abundance of it. You should also send a toy or two, or perhaps your dog’s food bowl. These items will help them feel a little more secure. 

Reuniting

Most dogs recognize their owner very quickly. If yours doesn’t, give them a little time. They will get there. Once they do, you’ll see the moment of recognition and happiness. Be sure you have time set aside to spend with your dog when you return. 

Give them lots of pets and a treat or a new toy. Don’t feel guilty or apologize to your dog for leaving. This could cause confusion for your dog. Instead, focus on how happy you both are to be back together again. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.