4 min read


Can Dogs Remember Their Past?



4 min read


Can Dogs Remember Their Past?


As a loving and committed dog owner, chances are you've spent some time pondering whether or not your dog can remember their past. People who have rescue dogs probably suffer from this more than others, as what happened in their dog's life before them is a true mystery. 

While dog lovers and scientists alike have been pondering this question for many years, a recent study has uncovered that dogs do in fact possess a declarative memory. This means that they are able to recall facts and information from their past, both pleasant and negative. 

However, it is important to keep in mind that a dog's memory does not work exactly like ours. This means that you may never know what exactly they remember from their past. New research indicates they most likely remember their previous owners, especially if their experience was quite traumatic or incredibly loving.  


Signs a Dog Remembers Their Past

Now that we've established that dogs are capable of remembering their past and retaining that memory for years, let's look at some of the top signs that your dog is maybe having a flashback of their life before you.

In order to do so, we must acknowledge just what incredible creatures our furry friends are. Not only can they sense our emotions and tune in to how we are feeling, but they can also pick up on the inner-workings of other dogs. It seems we learn more about dogs and the canine mind every single day, something we certainly aren't complaining about! 

A groundbreaking study conducted in Budapest, Hungary uncovered that dogs are excellent observers who can actually mimic human behaviors and actions just by seeing them. 

They learn through experience and can both remember and reenact actions by their human companions. This also leads us to our next point - that dogs have associative memories. They will remember a person, place, or experience based on specific associations they have with them. 

When looking to your dog for a sign they are having a blast from the past, pay close attention to their behavior and how they are interacting with a person or in a certain environment. Chances are you know your dog's behavioral traits by now, so if they are acting a little strange or even crazy, they very well may be remembering something from the past. 

For example, dogs often have a hard time with men wearing hats. Where does this stem from? Many dog owners believe (and rightfully so) that their dog had a bad experience in the past with someone who wore a hat, leading them to have a strong negative association with any man who wears a hat. 

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog remembers their past:

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Cowering
  • Wag Tail
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog remembers their past:

  • Displaying Out-Of-The-Ordinary Behavior
  • Reacting Strangely To Certain People Or Things
  • Showing Fear

History of Dogs Remembering Their Past


We mentioned that for many years researchers believed dogs could not remember their past, but that has recently been proven wrong. The Budapest study we referenced earlier determined dogs do have some sort of mental remembrance of not only past events but of influential people they've encouraged along the way, as well. 

This is a pretty important revelation for many reasons, but namely, because it drastically changes the way we think about dogs and our interactions with them. 

Not only are dogs wonderful, loyal companions, but they are much deeper and have a lot more going on up there than previously thought. Sure, they want to please you and know how to mimic your actions, but they also can recall things that have happened to them throughout their lives. That's pretty neat, if you ask us! 

Science Behind Dogs Remembering Their Past


Humans are gifted with an episodic memory, which is important in helping us understand past events and relate them to a context of time. This also allows us to remember people from our past pretty clearly. Dogs, on the other hand, have an associative memory and are thought of to live more "in the moment". They also have more difficulty with the concept of time than humans do, which explains why they are so excited every time they see you, even if you just ran to the store or went to check the mail. In the most basic sense, the way a dog's memory works goes something like "that person fed me, I love them"; or "that person hurt me, I must defend myself and stay as far away as possible".

This all makes perfect sense, when you really think about it. Dogs rely on their sense of smell and sight to recognize their owner and others who are important in their lives, both of which can also help them recall past experiences and memories. Similar to humans, as dogs get older, they may have a harder time recalling people and events from their puppy years. Furthermore, studies have shown that specific actions, behaviors, and traits can all trigger memories and recall past experiences for a dog. 

Training Your Dog to Remember Their Past


There is no way to train your dog to remember things that happened to them in the past, but you can help them to retain behaviors you want them to hold on to now. This is an important distinction that should not be overlooked. Just like humans, dogs experience and recall past events in different ways from one another. We cannot determine how a dog will react to an abusive past, we can only give them the support and unconditional love they deserve to move forward in a healthy and positive way. 

When it comes to training your dog to trust you and become your loyal companion, the first thing you need to remember is that short-term memory for a dog is roughly five minutes. That isn't a very long time, which means you will need to be patient with your new pup and stay committed to your training. Long-term memory for a dog is much harder to determine, which is why we are unsure exactly what they remember from their past. We know they have a good long-term memory for numerous reasons, including the fact they can remember hand signals and certain words for an entire lifetime. Many dogs respond better to these training methods, which is something to keep in mind when working with a new pup. 

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Safety Tips for When Your Dog Remembers Their Past:

  1. Remove them from the situation if it seems dangerous or upsetting to them.
  2. Stay near by and keep a close eye on them.

Written by a Chihuahua lover Allie Wall

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/21/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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