Most of dog owners cannot take a dog with them to college. Unfortunately, college itself can take up to six years to complete. That’s a long time not to come back to your furry friend. So, regardless if you see your dog after months or years in college, the question of whether your dog will forget you when you leave for college can be troubling.
Your dog will not forget you when you leave for college, irrespective of how many months or years you are away. However, how your dog remembers you can vary depending on the length of time you spent with your dog before leaving and if the experience between the two of you was positive or negative.
There are studies that support the fact that your dog remembers you when you leave for a long period. In this article, I will look at these studies and include:
- How long your dog will remember you after you leave for college
- A heart warming video of a dog that clearly remembers her owner after 7 years apart
- What makes a dog remember their owners
- How you know your dog remembers you after returning from college or any othe
r time away
Let’s get started so you can stop worrying about your dog forgetting you when you leave for college.
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How Long Will My Dog Remember Me After I Leave for College?
There’s a widespread consensus that dogs never forget their owners, regardless of how long they’ve been away. We dog owners certainly want to believe this is true.
Despite this common belief, researchers haven’t determined the specific time period your dog can remember you after you leave. What’s certain, instead, are the real world cases of dogs that remembered their owners after many years of absence.
For example, the dog in the heartwarming video below was lost for seven years:
When the dog was reunited with the owner, the owner embraced dog excitedly, and the dog was allowed to lick the owner in return. The dog allowing the owner to stroke them and, in return, enthusiastically licking the owner are both signs of acceptance and affection in the world of dogs. They are also a clear sign that a dog remembers their owner even after 7 years.
Similar incidences where dogs remember their military owners after long years of deployment are plentiful on the internet. Be reassured by the fact that college is often a shorter time frame than military service, thereby increasing the likelihood you’ll be remembered after you leave for college.
But exactly how do dogs remember their owners after they leave for college or other long periods of time?
How Dogs Remember Their Owners After They Leave
Dogs and humans are often studied in comparison. Researchers often use human experiences to understand those of dogs.
By doing this, they have found that dogs, like humans, have both episodic and long-term memory. Both memories are important in recalling their owners after they leave, whether that involves leaving your dog for a few days in a boarding facility, for months, or even years when you go to college.
Dogs Use Episodic Like Memory To Recall Past Experiences
When it comes to remembering, humans can create memories and recall past personal experiences because they are self-aware. The ability to remember things and experiences among humans is known as episodic memory.
Self-awareness is not a characteristic of dogs. For this reason, humans have thought for centuries that dogs aren’t capable of episodic memory.
However, studies have discovered that dogs have the ability to recall events and incidences in the past. This ability has been described as episodic like memory.
I’ve certainly found this to be true with Blanco, my white Labrador Retriever, and you may have noticed the same with your own dog. For eample, I’ve been surprised when Blanco remembers a skill that we rarely use from our puppy dog training classes from over 8 years ago!
Another example of episodic memory involves where Blanco lays in the kitchen. We rewarded Blanco when he laid in a certain area, or “place”, in the kitchen when he was a small puppy. This was important so I wouldn’t trip over him when I was busy cooking, but I wasn’t forward thinking in selecting the best place for him to lay. Blanco takes up way too much space laying in his previously designated spot after he became full grown. Despite extensive effort to get him to lay in a new “place”, we chuckle that Blanco still initially returns almost daily to the exact “place” he learned as a puppy.
You may have had similar incidences with your own dog training that seem to be due to episodic like memory.
So, how does episodic-like memory work in dogs?
In one study, 17 dogs were tested with the “Do as I Do” method to see if they would remember to imitate their owners’ actions after some time. The study discovered that dogs could remember the actions. In addition, they repeated the actions with precision, even after long hours without practice.
This finding led the researchers to believe that dogs have episodic like memory of others’ actions. In inference, they can remember what their owners did or made them do.
Dogs Have a Long Term Memory and Will Remember After a While
In a different study, dogs were tested on their ability to learn the names of new objects. It was discovered that dogs learned at the same rate as an infant at the onset of the vocabulary spurt period.
Most significantly, dogs were able to keep a long-term memory of the words for a minimum of two months.
This finding contradicts the common statement you’ll find in most dog content online that states “dogs forget after two minutes.” Instead, it confirms that dogs will remember you through things you did with them after a while.
Nonetheless, other factors can shape how a dog remembers you when you leave for college.
Dogs’ Memory of You Depends on Time and Type of Experience
The “Do as I Do” study mentioned earlier found that a dog’s memory of the actions they imitated from their owners diminished with time if not practiced.
A third study also established that dogs remember people less if their experience with them was short lived.
These findings lead us to make two important conclusions:
- If you purchase a dog and leave for college after a week, your dog is likely to forget you or take longer to remember you when you return.
- The longer you are away, the more likely your dog will forget experiences with you. Again, it will take longer for your dog to remember you when you return.
But what about the type of experience? How does that affect the way your dog remembers you?
According to PetMD, dogs will remember the extreme experiences with their owners more, which is true with both positive and negative experiences.
As such, if you had strong, positive experiences with your dog before leaving for college, your dog will relive the positive experiences when it meets you again. If you had negative experiences, your dog would still remember you, but will show that with avoidant behavior.
Signs Your Dog Remembers You After Leaving for College
If you are worried about your dog remembering you when you leave for college, it is most likely because you and your furry friend have a strong positive connection.
In this case, your dog will clearly show that it remembers you when you return from college through certain behaviors and body language that express joy and excitement, including:
- Barking, whining, or howling
- Jumping around or on you
- Wagging their tail in contentment
- Raising their ears
- Happy dancing
- Running a distance from you and coming back excited
- Overwhelming you with attention
Here’s a great example of a dog overjoyed with their owner returning home from college:
The Bottom Line
Your dog will not forget you when you leave for college if you have had your dog for a while. That’s because the episodic like and long term memories characteristic of canines will help your dog recall the experiences you had with them before leaving.
Nonetheless, how your dog remembers you when you leave for college can vary.
Owning a dog for a short time before leaving or staying away for too long can make your dog forget the experiences you had with it. This could mean that it will take more time before your dog remembers you after your return from college.