While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to show that Fido may recognize a former owner who he hasn't seen for a while, some scientific evidence backs this up. Though they may not share a human's ability to remember the past, many pooches do remember people familiar to them.
Humans use their unique episodic memory to understand past events in the context of time and remember people from their past as well. While some scientific research shows that our canine companions don't have episodic memory, live "in the moment" and don't remember past events, other research contradicts this. According to Dr. Thomas Zentall of the University of Kentucky, pooches learn based on past events. They can anticipate future events based on their past experiences, reports Animal Planet. If pups can remember the past and learn from experience, they also may remember the people they had frequent contact with who trained them, including previous owners.
According to a study published in the December 2010 issue of "Animal Behavior," pooches can recognize their owners by seeing their faces and prefer to stare at them and follow after them. When the faces of a pup's owner and a stranger were covered, the canine participants had a more difficult time recognizing their owners. Senior pups, older than 7, also had trouble distinguishing their owner's face from those of strangers due to age-related memory issues. Such scientific evidence indicates that a pooch would need to remember his owner's face to recognize and distinguish it from that of a stranger. Depending on his age, Fido might even remember a former owner's face.
Dogs and Past Experiences
Dogs recognize people whom they have interacted with in the past, sometimes due to traumatic events. If a former owner was abusive, your pup will react with fear-based behaviors to that person if Fido encounters her again, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Your pooch also may fear a person who looks similar to the former owner who abused him. Of course, the reverse is true and puppies who are exposed to friendly people early in life may remember them later on and tend to be better socialized to humans overall than those who weren't.
Our canine companions experience conditions such as separation anxiety, indicating that they have long-term memory sufficient to remember their owners when they aren't around, even when owners go away for extended periods. They also have a form of long-term memory called definitive memory, which allows them to learn commands, according to a study published in the July 2013 issue of "Animal Cognition." Pups can identify objects and even distinguish between nouns and verbs, according to the American Psychological Association.
- Animal Cognition: Deferred Imitation and Declarative Memory in Domestic Dogs
- American Psychological Association: Media Advisory: Chaser Reveals Canines’ Cognitive Potential
- PetPlanet.co.uk: Endal, the Memory Dog
- BBC Earth News: Dogs Recognise Their Owner's Face
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Fear of People
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.