In the world of humans, siblings often grow up under the same roof. They fight over toys, exchange playful punches, share family picnics and Christmas mornings. People's faces register recognition and delight when they see their siblings in a crowd, especially if they've been separated for a length of time. But what about dogs? Do canines recognize their brothers and sisters?
There is no concrete evidence suggesting that dog siblings can recognize each other later in life, although Steven R. Lindsay, author of the "Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training," suggests they can. In his writings, Lindsay suggests that a dog can recognize his parents and siblings, and even humans from early interactions, provided they are together during the critical socialization phase from week three of life through week 16.
The truth is, no one knows for certain. After all, your dog Billy can't tell you if he recognizes Henry, his littermate from the Bronx. As in humans, dog relatives share DNA, and it is possible that it is this DNA imprinting that keeps a dog from mating with a sibling, but does that mean he recognizes his sister or his mother? As each species propagates to sustain itself, this DNA is nurtured, so it is possible that this DNA sharing lends to a species taking care of its blood first, therefore suggesting species other than humans can recognize their own family members.
A Dog's Nose Knows
It is possible that a dog can recognize a sibling by scent. A dog's sense of smell supersedes that of human capability by 10,000 to 100,000 in acuteness. Canines are used to sniff out bombs, drugs and cancer, so perhaps it is the olfactory superpower that might allow a dog to detect another dog he recognizes from his past. Similarly, studies suggest that dogs recognize faces and facial expressions. Paolo Mongillo from the University of Padua in Italy conducted a study to determine if a dog could recognize his owner's face. When presented with his owner and a stranger, the dog showed preference to his owner, but paid less attention when the owner's face was covered. If a dog can recognize his owner's face, can he recognize the face of a sibling? Perhaps he can.
The Truth of the Matter
The truth of the matter is, no one knows for sure if a dog recognizes a sibling. Perhaps one day man will be able to communicate with a dog on a dog's level, but until that day comes, you may have to be content to leave your dog Billy will a trunkful of secrets.
- PetsAdviser: Do Dogs Think About Their Parents, or Their Siblings?
- Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training; Steven R. Lindsay
- PBS Nova: Dogs' Dazzling Sense of Smell
- BBC Earth News: Dogs Recognise Their Owner's Face
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images