A dog can recognize its siblings, but it happens way differently than with humans. Dogs remember scents better than anything else. To identify a sibling, they would have to identify their smell first. How well they can do that depends on how much time they’ve spent with their siblings earlier on.
Dogs often get adopted into human families early in their lives. So, they don’t get to spend much time with their littermates because most of them get separated by different owners.
Luckily, dogs adapt easily to their new home and owners, but it just leaves you wondering what would happen if they were to ever be reunited with their brothers and sisters again.
Researchers are still far from fully understanding how dogs work, and why they work the way they do. Because of that, there’s no definite answer to the question, but at least we know what it depends on.
A dog recognizing its siblings depends on their scent and how much time has passed since they were last separated.
How to Tell if a Dog Recognizes Its Siblings
It wouldn’t feel like a random encounter.
The siblings would spend more time sniffing each other. They are trying to figure out why the other dog smells so similar.
The siblings would be calmer and more curious about each other’s presence.
One thing we know for sure is that dogs don’t have the ability to think “Oh, that is my long-lost sibling.” They don’t fully understand how they’re related, but it’s all about the scent.
That’s their most developed quality, after all. A dog’s nose is ten thousand times more sensitive than ours. Every dog has a different unique smell that their sensitive noses can tell apart.
If the scent of the other dog is familiar, then they would feel safe and excited around each other. According to Mark Aaron, a close relative shouldn’t feel like a threat.
When they meet another family member, pay attention to your dog’s reaction. You will be able to tell if they remember each other based on their behavior. It should be different than how your dog usually behaves around a new dog they meet for the first time.
It may take a longer amount of time, depending on how social your puppy’s personality is in general. If they are naturally friendly with other dogs, then they might even lick their sibling, roll on the ground with their belly up, have their ears forward, and so on.
These are all signs of social excitement, but it’s a higher level of excitement. If your dog recognizes a sibling, their reactions would be more intense compared to meeting with other dogs.
If you don’t notice a difference, that means the dog doesn’t recognize anything special about the other one. It’s completely possible and just as normal for that to happen.
Where the Ability Comes From
Thousands of years ago, domesticated pet dogs find their evolution roots from wolves.
We all know that wolves have always traveled in big packs. For them, the community of family members and siblings is very important.
A big part of being in such a pack is to be able to recognize members of your own bloodline. It’s a survival instinct that makes sure wolves know who to protect when it comes down to it.
A mother wolf needs to know who her own wolf pups are, and they need to know who their mother is, all based on the scent.
The big question is whether after all these years of evolution, dogs still have that instinct deep inside from their ancestors.
If the little puppy has been separated from their family or pack soon after their birth, they most likely won’t have much memory of their siblings years down the line.
Imagine a human baby being adopted at birth. When they grow up, they will have no recollection of their biological family.
It’s the same thing with dogs. If it’s an early adoption, they simply wouldn’t have enough time to remember their original family’s scent or to learn anything about them.
They Learn Siblings’ Scent During Socialization
The socialization period is between about 6 and 16 weeks. If the pup is separated before that socialization period has taken place, then the chances of it recognizing its siblings are minimal.
It’s very crucial that the puppy and its siblings have developed a bond while they were together.
The stronger the bond is, the better chances you get at your dog remembering that bond in the future. That’s the best way to make sure the scent will stay in their memory for longer.
It’s not very clear how long a specific scent stays in a dog’s memories, but obviously, spending more time around that scent will be helpful.
In that beginning period, their primary social interaction should be with their family – their original pack. It’s who they use as role models for how a dog should behave and what lessons they need to learn.
They Recognize Siblings to Not Breed With Them
Ultimate Pet Nutrition Team shares that another factor that could play a role in the question of dogs recognizing their siblings is the DNA.
Dogs also have DNA, like humans. It may also be in their DNA to not breed with family members. That would mean they must be able to set them apart.
All animals, including dogs, are programmed to protect their DNA and make sure it survives for the next generation.
When a dog encounters another dog carrying its DNA, it might be in their nature to sense that. However, before anything else, they still need to recognize them by their scent first.
Less Likely if Socialized With Humans
How much a dog is socialized with humans can also play a role in how likely it is for the dog to remember its family members.
As we know, dogs can form very strong bonds and attachments with their owners. There has even been studies on dogs that suggest they can recognize their owners’ faces and get excited about it.
If that doesn’t prove dogs are our best friends, then I don’t know what does.
If during the mentioned 6-16-weeks socialization period, dogs spend more time with humans than with siblings, then they will form a stronger bond with the humans. The bond with their family will become less significant.
This, in combination with spending a long time at their new home, can make the dog totally forget what their life was like back at the litter.
That’s totally okay, though. The bond your dog forms with you can be just as strong, if not even stronger, than the previous family ones.
If your dog lives in a loving and supportive home, they won’t feel sad or experience any difficulties adapting to it. You’re all the family your dog needs.
However, if you still want your dog to recognize its siblings or to develop a bond with them, too, then all you need to do is help them spend more time together.
Allow your puppy to see its littermates on a regular basis. A neighbor or a friend nearby can adopt one of your dog’s siblings, for example.
Seeing them and playing with them often will make them get used to the idea of being in each other’s lives.
Even if they don’t realize they are related by blood at first, soon they will have a strong enough bond to see each other as siblings anyway, much like how we sometimes see our friends as our family.
How to Find Your Dog’s Siblings
If you want to know where and how to look for your dog’s family relatives, you first need to know that it can be a difficult task.
Amanda Chussler says that to be able to trace back your dog’s family, both pet owners need to have agreed to share their pets’ records. If that’s not the case, it will be hard to find who adopted your dog’s long-lost brothers and sisters.
Another option is to see if your shelter organizes playdate gatherings, but it’s not too common of a practice.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask because family reunions like that can be beneficial for your puppy.
There are also dog DNA tests that can find their relatives, as long as their relatives also did the test.
If it happens to work out, Dr. Ochoa suggests introducing the dogs at their own pace. Don’t rush it in any way if you want them to get comfortable with each other.
It doesn’t work on humans, it won’t work on dogs, either.