Do Dogs Recognize Their Masters After a Long Absence?

The bond between soldier and dog holds strong, despite long deployments.
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Dogs are gifted creatures, able to catalog a myriad of scents and recognize faces. Imagine a soldier leaves home for four years. Upon her return, her dog greets her as though she’d never left. This affection is a testament to the dog’s incredible ability to recognize his master.

The Nose Knows reports that dogs “possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about 6 million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.” Your dog also has an olfactory memory, meaning he remembers scents long after he’s been exposed to them. Even if your face were to change, your dog would be able to associate you by smell. He may not have as strong of a reaction, as he would if he could both smell you and see you, but he will remember your scent and react in a familiar way.

Facial Recognition

Italian researchers conducted a study at the University of Padua, which concluded that dogs rely on their eyes to discern their masters. Even more than smell, a dog uses his sense of sight to determine who you are. So long as your dog has strong healthy eyes, he won’t forget you. Unfortunately, dogs who have become visually impaired may have a tough time discerning exactly who you are, but his sense of smell should tell him that you’re someone familiar – even after a long absence.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “dogs have no concept of time.” Some people believe that a dog can’t discern a minute from an hour, but this just isn’t true. According to Animal Planet, dogs simply remember differently than humans. Using routine clues, such as hunger levels, your dog can discern the time you should be home from work. He will correlate his hunger with your returning and thus get excited to see you when his tummy begins to growl. His level of excitement is affected by the length of time you’re gone. If you’ve been gone for more than a day, expect a much happier reunion, than if you’d just stepped out for a couple hours.

A Heartwarming Reunion

“Studies show that dogs display greater affection toward their owners if they've been separated for longer periods of time,” writes Animal Planet. “As the amount of time away increases, so does the dog’s excitement.” This is exactly why the soldier’s dog greets her with love and affection, even after years of deployment. It’s also a reason why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety when their masters are away. Ask your dog’s caretaker if he's been suffering from anxiety. If so, stage the reunion in a quiet, secluded place where your dog won’t be bombarded with people and attention. It’s a good idea to reunite at home or in a secluded park, separately from your reunions with friends and family. Your dog is going to be happy and relieved to see you, so it's important to give him your full and undivided attention.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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