I didn’t realize my dog remembered her old life so well until something truly unexpected happened.

Many people argue that dogs are creatures of the moment, simple beings so focused on the now that they can’t be help but be happy. But my German shepherd Cora taught me that a dog’s past stays with them in ways that can be downright disturbing.

I adopted Cora from the SPCA when she was two years old. Because of unusual circumstances, I was able to learn a lot about her history, including the fact she had spent nearly a year chained up in a yard. While her early years were rough, she seemed well-adjusted and quite happy with her new life with me. When she was ten, something happened that forcefully showed me that her past was not forgotten, and it had been worse than I realized.

Our beautiful Cora

My husband was standing in the dining room with the rod in his hand. Cora was lying on the floor nearby.

Because he hadn’t been fishing in years, I was teasing him when I asked, “What are you going to do with that?”

He responded in kind, clearly joking when he said, “I’m going to beat the dog with it.”

To our astonishement, Cora leapt to her feet and raced from the room.

Kurt immediately put down the rod and went after her to apologize, but it was a while before she stopped shaking. I couldn’t believe it. This was the same dog who didn’t just sleep through thunderstorms but barely woke up when lightning hit the tree right next to our house.

When we talked about it afterwards, we were horrified. Neither of us had ever beaten her or talked about beating her before. He hadn’t brandished the rod or moved towards her or even looked at her. His tone of voice had been light-hearted, not threatening or angry.

And yet, Cora had been terrified. Perhaps the combination of the someone holding a stick and mentioning the dog was all that was needed, but the strength of her response was striking. Someone had beaten her in the past, more than eight years before, and she still remembered it.

It’s easy to think dogs are stupid, that the words we use are all “blah blah blah” to them, as suggested by the old Far Side cartoon. But Cora knew something about sticks and beatings that even eight years of kindness and loving care couldn’t erase. For me, it was an important reminder that dogs do remember the past, that how we treat them can stay with them their entire life.

Have you ever been surprised by what your dog remembers?

4 thoughts on “Dogs Remember. Unfortunately.”

  1. I totally agree with you. Both of my dogs are rescues and the older one is scared to death of cars (she was found in a parking lot of King Soopers) and guns. My husband can’t even open his safe without Roxie shaking. Breaks my heart. Roscoe has some behavior curiosities as well, but not as much as Roxie. We got Roscoe when he was much younger, though, too.
    Beautiful dog by the way! 🙂

    1. I had forgotten, but when I first got her, Cora kept her distance from bearded men. That wore off over time, but some things apparently never go away. Rescue dogs can be challenging, but the rewards make up for it.

  2. Same story, German Shep out of a Rescue who had been tied up her whole life (with rope growing into her skin) adopted at about 2 years. She came with fear disguised by aggression which took years to work through but her visual triggers were always brooms, sticks, rakes (anything with a handle), baseball hats, mens black boots. I worked endlessly with her to break down that aggression (everyone was so afraid of her!) and eventually I had the sweetest, most loving, loyal dog you could ever want. Rescuing, saving and fixing her life was priceless, I would do it all over again.

    1. She was so lucky to have you. I was fortunate that Cora wasn’t aggressive but she could be clueless about other dogs because she didn’t get any socialization.

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