When it comes to our dog's memory, we often find ourselves wondering - how does it really work? We know our pups can recall where their food bowl is every day, and we know that they remember where you hide their favorite treats (because they are usually standing by the cabinet waiting for them on cue). But how does a dog's memory really work?
Can they remember people, places things? Can dogs remember events?
The short answer: Yes, they absolutely can. Certain studies are showing that your dog remembers a lot more than you think they do and that they can learn from past events.
For a long time, it was thought that dogs had no memories of events or past happenings, but that's simply not the case. A new study out of Hungary suggests that dogs can mimic novel human actions by seeing them and remembering them after.
What are some signs to watch out for that might indicate your dog has a better memory than you think? Are there ways to determine your dog feels a certain way or has learned certain behavior from a past event?
Check out our guide to learn more!
Signs Your Dog Can Remember Events
Even if you don't think so, your dog is recalling and remembering a lot more than previously assumed. Though dogs' brains are definitely different than humans', they do function a tad similarly in this particular facet.
It was once thought that dogs couldn't form episodic memories because there was no way to test them linguistically - we couldn't look at our pups and ask them if they remembered something or not. However, new studies emerging indicate dogs do form episodic memory. For example, if your pup can mimic your behavior without you ever really teaching them the action - that is, they've seen you do it so they do it, meaning they can remember events.
There are other signs your dog remembers events too, and that's largely examined with behavior.
For example, if your dog reacts a certain way when you get in the car, it's likely because they have a specific experience with it. They remember the last time they got in the car with you with their leash and collar on, you took them to the vet. They don't like the vet, so they might act out.
On the flip side, your dog remembers that when you grab the leash and collar and take them out the door, you're likely leading them out for their favorite time of day - walk time! Your dog understands and remembers events a lot more than previously imaged. In fact, abused dogs remember who hurt them or where they were abused and are likely going to be upset, scared, anxious, or aggressive around similar scenarios or people.
The History of Dog Memory
Historically, dogs have been thought to be unable to form episodic memories, and much of this was because we didn't have a way to test them to determine what exactly they could remember. Mostly, dogs have been thought to have only semantic memory, so remembering only real-world facts and data.
For your pup, this looks like properly interpreting commands like "if I sit and stay, I'll get a treat." This is undeniably a type of memory and cognitive function your dog's brain forms.
Your dog has also been thought to have procedural memory. This means they have an unconscious memory that's concerned with a learned skill, like when you throw a ball and your doggo catches it. Recent studies suggest that this isn't the only type of memories your dog can form, though. In fact, it's suggested that your dog can form episodic memories - this means they remember past events.
The Science Behind Dog Memory
Understanding how dog memory works can be sort of complicated. Because language is a barrier, we can't simply ask pups to tell us what they remember after an event. Because of this, we have to learn more about their memory abilities based on tests and their reactions to them.
Animals typically live only in the present, according to researcher William Roberts, so they can't consciously and willfully think back to specific memories and anticipate events. They can, however, log episodic memories, according to a new study out of Hungary.
They might not have the sophisticated abilities and memories like humans - they can't "time travel" backward or forward in their heads - but they can remember events and mimic behaviors based off of those memories, as they do in tests like "do as I do training," which will be explained below!
In short, dogs can recall memories and mimic behaviors based off those memories, but they can't form sophisticated functions like planning ahead or critical thinking when it comes to using those memories.
Training Your Dog to Sharpen Their Memory
One of the best ways to determine and sharpen your dog's awareness and memory is to follow a "do as I do" training program. This is initially how scientists determined that dogs' do have episodic memories.
Have your dog watch you perform a certain task for about a minute and a half to two minutes. You can either have them sit and watch the task or teach them to copy a task. For example, try bopping an umbrella with your hand. Do this for up to two minutes and have your dog watch you. Then, walk your dog behind a blocking device, like a screen, so they can't see the object from anywhere between 40 seconds and ten minutes.
Play with them, give them affection, or do dog and owner things during this time period. Then, bring your pup back to the object and command your dog to "do it." Typically, your dog will be able to perform the task! Work with them on this sort of training to sharpen their memory skills and keep their focus on point!
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 03/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020