If you’ve ever had a rescue dog, you’ve probably wondered if your dog remembers their previous owner. Dog memory doesn’t work the same as human memory, and it’s impossible to know for sure how much of what types of things dogs do remember throughout their lives. Still, there is evidence to suggest that dogs can remember previous owners, particularly if their experience with that owner was strikingly good or terribly abusive.
Humans have “episodic memory,” which helps us understand past events with the help of a time context and also helps us remember people from our past. Dogs tend to live more in the moment and have less concept of time than humans do. Most of what they remember relates to information they need to survive. For instance: that person hurt me; I need to stay away. That person fed me and loved me; they’re safe.
Studies have shown that dogs primarily use their sense of sight to recognize their owners, so older dogs with failing sight or signs of canine dementia would be much less likely to recognize and remember a previous owner than a younger dog with perfect eyesight.
It seems that certain actions or traits can trigger memories of their experiences with their past owner. For example, you may have heard of rescue dogs being afraid of men with beards, or pups that take a particular liking to elderly people. All in all, it seems that while a dog might recognize a previous owner if they met them, they probably don’t have the capacity to just casually reminisce about good or bad times.
Do you think your rescue dog remembers his or her previous owner? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!