Many believe that a healthy parent-puppy relationship has less to do with biology than socialization. So, yes, a puppy can definitely think of you as his "mom"—that is, his protector and provider–and develop as strong an emotional bond with you as if you were blood related. Your puppy will also quickly learn to pick you out among strangers, both by sight and through his powerful sense of smell. However, developing healthy interactions and ensuring your pup recognizes you as his loving pet parent requires some nurturing.
A Dog's Nose
With 220 million receptors compared to the 5 million humans have, a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than human senses, according to James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University. When it comes to human recognition, dogs are able to decipher one individual's odor-causing secretions from another's. In addition, dogs possess a pheromone at the base of the nasal passage that provides species and sex information. Mom's scent will be found on skin, clothes, in her house, car and bed, providing a constant stream of information for Fido to use.
Canine eyesight is constantly being investigated but it seems domestication has made dogs much more aware of human expressions. In 2013, Outi Vainio, DVM, of the University of Helsinki, discovered that when shown images of humans, dogs held their gaze on their owners' eyes longer than on others. Reinforcing these findings are those by Paolo Mongillo, of the University of Padua in Italy. In his study, published the the journal, Animal Behaviour, a dog gazed at his owner walking across a room for a significantly longer period of time than he would a stranger. To ensure this was due to sight rather than smell, researchers asked human participants to walk across a room wearing paper bags to conceal their faces; this time the dogs were much less interested.
Nature Versus Nurture
Behavior may play an important role in letting Fido know who his pet parent is. Historically, dogs lived as packs with a reliable, strong and dependable leader. The human-animal bond is not based on a battle for dominance, the VCA Animal Hospitals website claims. The bond is driven by several factors, including genetics, learning and conflict resolution. VCA asserts that positive reinforcement, socialization with other people and dogs, as well as consistency in training, develops a much stronger, healthier and lasting bond between dogs and their human families.
You'll Know And So Will Fido
Over time, your puppy will utilize his instincts, as well as learned behaviors, from interactions with you and ultimately recognize you as mom. Enrolling him in training as a puppy will help both you and him develop positive interactions and expectations. A veterinarian can point you in the right direction and determine whether one-on-one training, or puppy classes would be most beneficial for your new addition.
PBS: Dog's Sense of Smell
ADW: Canis lupus familiaris
BBC: Dogs Recognize Their Owner's Face
The Independent: Dogs Recognise Their Owners' Faces - But Prefer Looking At Other Dogs
Animal Cognition: How Dogs Scan Familiar And Inverted Faces: An Eye Movement Study
Alabama Cooperative Extension System: The Dog's Sense of Smell
CIA: Human Scent and Its Detection
ASPCA: Dog Behavior
VCA Animal Hospitals: Dog Behavior and Training - Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership – What Does It Really Mean?
About the Author
Working with both small animals and exotics, Pamela Meadors has devoted more than 15 years to the veterinary field. She possesses a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and is the proud mom of a blind hedgehog.