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Ask A Vet: How Long Do Dogs Remember A Scent? (2023)

How Long Do Dogs Remember A Scent

“They’ve been barking for so long. They probably smelled you from a mile away!”

Says your friend who took care of your dog while you’re away for a vacay…

Now, on the drive home with your pooch, it made you think…

“How much longer could I have been gone before Fido forgets how I smell?”

Good thing that you looked for the answer because it’s right here…

Keep reading to discover:

  • If dogs will always remember your scent.
  • How long dogs remember a scent (and how do they remember).
  • If dogs have an associative or episodic memory (what those are).
  • And much, much more….

How long do dogs remember a scent?

Dogs will remember a scent no matter how long. There’s a theory that dogs can remember a scent for the rest of their lives. That’s because of the ‘associative memory’ that dogs have. It’s when they’ll store any scent related to you and the experience you give them on their mind.

How do dogs remember a scent?

Dogs remember a scent based on an association. Such is called ‘associative memory’ in dogs.

But first, let’s explore the amazing ability of a dog’s nose…

A dog’s nose

According to VCA Hospitals, dogs use most of their brainpower in analyzing smells.

And that’s no surprise as they do it best…

Why won’t they?

Did you know? The canine brain has an area dedicated to studying smells. Humans have that as well. However, for dogs, the area’s 40 times larger compared to the human brain.

Moreover, estimates show that dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than humans.

Scent and memory in dogs

Now to your main question…

How does your dog even remember how you smell? Moreover, are they even capable of ‘remembering’?

The answer to the latter is yes. Your canine companion is definitely capable of storing and recalling memories.

However, their way of doing things is a little different from ours…

Associative memory in dogs

Associative Memory In Dogs

You see, your dog will always recognize your smell.


They do so through association.

“I’m still a bit lost…”

To put it simply, a dog will connect your smell with the emotion or action that you give them.

So, they’ll remember how you made them feel or what you made them do. And along with that is your scent.

Now, imagine this:

Say that your pooch is a rescue. 

Their background is that they’ve been abused before. 

That’s why when you take them home, they’re scared of almost anything.

But now, you’re giving them a wonderful life. You play and spend time with them. And you love your canine so much it hurts.

With that, they seem to have lost their fears by trusting you. 

All of those memories of happiness will always be associated with your smell.

So, when you get home from a long day for work and your dog smells you…

Oh, they’re going to be so happy.

And what if, by chance, your pooch comes across with their past dog parent? The one who used to abuse them?

Then, if Fido detects their ex-parent’s smell, they might start feeling fearful again. That’s because they relate their scent with the abuse.

In Fido’s mind, that’s the scent of pain…

And that’s how the so-called associative memory in dogs works. That’s the reason behind your dog’s ability to remember a scent.

Moreover, another kind of memory is currently being looked at. It’s called…

Episodic memory in dogs

As the name suggests, this type of memory is based on different episodes of experiences.

Episodic memory is the one behind your ability to retain memories. 

Think about your lunch yesterday and what it smelled like…

Whatever it is must be great…

Moreover, I just made you use your episodic memory.

As for dogs, this type of recollection is a little bit controversial. 

There’s no hard proof that they can perform the short exercise that I made you do.

That’s why, according to AKC, scientists are arguing about this. They say if dogs can have strong episodic memories, they’re self-aware creatures.

And let me tell you, it’s a long debate…

As of now, this research tells us that dogs can remember, but only for a while.

They tested using the “Do as I do” challenge. Results show that:

The subject dogs were able to recreate actions within 10 minutes. And they’re able to do so even after a few distractions.

However, their demonstration of new actions is delayed. However, they’re still able to repeat the movement.

Now, if you relate this type of memory with the scent, the point is going to be:

If dogs use episodic memory to remember your scent, then they’re more aware than you thought…

And it’s unfortunate that as of now, there’s no clear conclusion in this area…

But when there is, I’ll definitely get back at ya

How long can a dog remember a person’s scent?

A dog can remember a person’s scent for as long as they can. That’s the most straightforward answer to that question. It’s because canines will always remember an associated scent with a person.

As I said, dogs use association when it comes to remembering any smell.

Moreover, such a phenomenon doesn’t have an expiry…

Once your dog has linked your smell with the many experiences you face with them…

Aww, guaranteed they’re going to remember what you smell like forever.

It’s true…

There are many dog parent testaments that vary. All they have in common is that their dogs remembered who they are through their smell…

And many experience it after many years of separation from their pooch.

Just take a look at this compilation/ It’s videos of happy dogs who remember their parents after years of time apart.

Moreover, VCA Hospitals assure us that dogs have excellent scent memory.

In fact, they can identify a dog that they haven’t encountered for years…

Moreover, dogs smell differently from each other. 

And you know what? That’s also the case for humans.

Fun fact: Research tells us that a human’s smell is as unique as their fingerprint. That’s why they coined a name for it: odorprints.

With that uniqueness and a dog’s fantastic scent memory…

It’s not likely that they’re going to forget your scent and what you made them feel.

Do dogs always remember your scent?

Dogs will always remember your scent. That’s where most experts’ opinions point out. With that, you can expect your pooch to always know how you smell.

Like I’ve been saying, canines make use of their associative memory.

Such makes them remember people and events based on connecting things together. 

Let me give you this example to explain further:

You’re going to walk your dog…

So, you grab their leash from where it hangs…

When you see Fido on your side, their tail can’t help but to wag. Plus, there’s also a big smile plastered on their face.

It makes you wonder because you haven’t said a thing about walking them…

Well, the point is that you don’t have to.

The moment that you grabbed their leash from the hook, your fur baby already knows.

That’s because, for them, this is the equation:

Removing leash from the hook = Walk!

Now, that’s how a dog’s brain connects things with each other.

So, if it’s your smell they’ll associate with something, the formula is:

Hooman (you) = Love