How Long Do Dogs Remember People?

Dogs have been called “man’s best friend” for as long as we can remember. These furry friends make loyal companions, are great playmates, and they’re an excellent addition to your pack. Their love truly does seem unconditional.

how long do dogs remember people
How long do dogs remember people?

It’s normal to wonder, then, just what goes on in a dog’s mind. What do our dogs do all day? What are they thinking when they cock their heads to the side? And exactly how long is a dog’s memory?

That last question is what we’re exploring in this article.

A Dog’s Memory

Social media has been home to many tear-jerking videos of dogs getting reunited with their owners after army tours overseas, time at college, or off on an extended vacation. Those pups are so excited to see their loved ones that they can barely stand because they’re wagging their tails so hard.

But what does that say about a dog’s long-term memory? Do they really remember their owners after months, or even years, have passed?

Is a Dog’s Memory Like a Human’s?

Put simply, a dog’s memory is not quite the same as a human’s. Their long-term memories are extensive, but their short-term memory is quite different. However, to learn about one, you’ll need to understand both.

cute dog awake in bed
What you need to know when your dog won’t go to sleep

A Dog’s Short-Term Memory

The main difference between a human’s short-term memory and a dog’s is that humans have a very episodic memory of past events. In contrast, dogs tend to forget things pretty much immediately.

So, for example, a human’s short-term memory only lasts about 30 seconds. In that time frame, we might quickly forget the name, phone number, or birthday of a person we just met. Still, we won’t forget our interaction with them, where they sat in relation to us, or what they looked like.

A dog’s short-term memory works a bit differently. Your pet will likely forget an entire event within a minute or two of it happening. This is why your dog will want a treat ten minutes after you fed them or won’t remember the command for sit until you’ve run over it with them multiple times.

A Dog’s Long-Term Memory

A dog’s long-term memory is much different than a human’s. As humans, we apply all of our senses to memory–the way a person looks, how their voice sounds, what color their eyes are, key personality features, their laugh, and so forth.

On the other hand, dogs don’t remember events but rather the sounds, smells, and sights associated with those events. Those associations can stick in your dog’s mind permanently, cementing a memory in their brain. 

This sense association is why your dog comes running when he hears you open a package of cheese. They may not remember the first time you fed them cheese or the look of love you gave as you shared a slice of mozzarella. Instead, they’ll associate the sound of the package with a pleasurable experience–in this case, a yummy snack.

How Dogs Remember People

kanni hound
The Kanni dog breed. See our photo gallery of tall and skinny dog breeds.

A dog’s associative memory is critical to remembering people, places, and events. Specifically, smell, sound, and sight are the key things that can help lock a memory in a dog’s mind indefinitely. 

Smell and Memory

We all know a dog’s strongest sense is smell. It’s why dogs have been bred for centuries to do work based on sniffing out animals, people, illnesses, and illegal substances. 

It’s no surprise that smell is one of the key triggers for a dog’s memory. It’s why dogs give each other (and us) a good sniff on a first meeting. A dog could remember your scent forever. That means if you go away for a long time, they’ll likely recognize you by smell before registering your face or voice.

If you’re not quite sure what I mean, take another look at some of those viral videos where dogs are reunited with their owners. In most cases, you’ll see the dog’s excitement really kick in when they catch a whiff of their loved one.

Sight and Memory

Dogs rely heavily on their sense of sight to remember things, too. Their brains aren’t wired for facial recognition in the same way a human’s might be. However, they’re still able to store away information about your appearance in their long-term memory.  

What’s most interesting is that a human smile, something considered a positive form of communication in humans, is actually a sign of aggression in many other animals. However, a dog can differentiate between the positivity of a human smile and the aggression of another dog’s “smile.”

How does this affect their memory of people? It’s simple. If a dog associates a human’s smile with positivity, the dog will associate positive emotions with the interaction with that person.

Sound and Memory

Does a dog recognize a person’s voice?


Dogs are actually pretty similar to humans when it comes to sound interpretation. Not only do they recognize voices, but they also differentiate between tones of voice. It’s why a dog reacts happily when you smile and call their name and warily if you sound angry.

Why is that?

Again, it goes back to a dog’s associative memory. Not only will a dog associate tone with actions, but they can also recall a person’s voice and the pleasurable or negative feelings that are attached to that voice.


Still curious about a dog’s memory? Here are some commonly asked questions that will give you a bit more information.

I rehomed my dog. Should I go visit?

Adopting or buying a dog is a huge commitment that we shouldn’t take lightly, but sometimes it’s best to put them in a home that’s better equipped for their needs. If you feel like you need to visit your old pup, give them at least a month to adjust to their new home first. 

Do dogs remember what they did wrong?

Because a dog has such a poor short-term memory, it’s unlikely they’ll remember what they did wrong if you come home and reprimand them. Although we can teach our pets “right” versus “wrong” behaviors, they won’t associate peeing on the carpet at 10 AM with your anger at dinnertime.

labradoodle puppy apricot happy on grass
An Apricot Labradoodle puppy happily laying in the dog park

Do dogs remember their previous owners?

A dog might not remember whether they saw their previous owner five years ago or five days ago. However, they’ll be able to recognize their owner based on associative memory. If you’ve recently adopted a dog, this is an important fact to be aware of because it can affect their temperament.

The moment you brought your pup home for the first time, they started building associative memories of you, your car, and your home. Over time, those memories of the sights, smells, and sounds of your dog’s new life became ingrained in their minds, creating a lasting memory of you. 

So, if you’re ever worried that your furry friend will forget you, try not to. The bond you form with your dog is truly built to last a lifetime.