How Good is a Dog’s Memory?

Dogs are known to be socially intelligent animals and make loyal pets. Have you ever wondered how good really a dog’s memory is?

Surely, dogs’ ability to recall is nowhere near as sharp as that of human beings. However, they are still capable of having associative and episodic-like memories, which make them responsive and sensitive pets.

Associative Memory

Dogs do not have the ability to recall past events in detail like humans. For example, when you go to a park, you are able to recall its specific features or a past event when you met a friend there. Instead, dogs remember people and places based on associating another sensory experience with them.

This type of memory involves associating certain sounds, smells or visual cues with a known action or emotion. For instance, your dog may associate the jingling of your car keys with the familiar action of you leaving home, and may start to whimper as you prepare to head out.

Another common example most dog owners can observe is when your pet associates the crinkle of a bag with receiving treats, making him rush to the kitchen in anticipation. Associative memory also helps dogs “remember” people. If a friend of yours who visited had been very affectionate with your dog, your pooch is likely to remember this when he sees and smells that person again.

Having an associative memory is the reason why you can’t punish your dog for a destructive behavior after a time delay. For example, if you find that your pup has chewed your slipper or peed on the carpet, it is unwise to punish him after he has done the deed. This may leave your pet confused and lead him to fear you. The only effective way to admonish him would be when you catch him red-handed.

Can your dog remember people?

Associative memory can stay in a dog’s mind for a very long period of time. While dogs may not be able to remember past events in detail, they can recall how certain people made them feel.

Your dog is probably competent in associating gestures, movement, voices and scents with emotions. There are instances where a dog recognizes his owner even if he has not seen him for a number of months.

Dogs can often recognize their previous owners who come to visit them a long time after having given them up for adoption. Some heart-rending moments have also been witnessed where dogs spend several years at their owners’ gravesites, waiting for them even after their death.

Can your dog recall the past?

Unlike humans, dogs do not have a vivid memory of past events with a clear perception of time. A rescue dog, for instance, may remember the feeling of being hungry or abused, but they are unable to sort their memories in chronological order.

A rescue dog’s memory may not be more detailed than knowing which rubbish bins to check for the best food. He will not be able to choose specific memories to revisit. Dogs tend to retain negative associations as much as hold on to positive ones.

Your dog is likely to retain muscle memory, for instance, he may instinctively tremble at quick movements, or act defensively in front of children if he was previously mistreated by a child. When dogs are adopted by loving families, good memories are likely to drown out negative ones over time.

Episodic Memory

Episodic memory in humans refers to the ability to recall specific events in terms of what, where and when they happened. Initially, it was believed that this was a distinct feature of the human mind. However, evidence shows that dogs also have “episodic-like memory”.

Your dog’s perception of time is probably not as well-developed as yours. There is no way of knowing how far back a dog can travel back in time in his mind and recall certain events. Nevertheless, experiments have discovered memories for what-where-when in animals such as dogs, birds and rats.

Hungarian researchers revealed that dogs can recall their owners’ actions, even when they are not trained to do so. An experiment was conducted where 17 dogs of different breeds were made to imitate their owners’ actions.

In the first round, the dogs were made to watch their owners perform previously unseen actions with different objects, such as climbing on a chair or touching an umbrella. The dogs were then instructed to copy the action by being commanded to “do it!”

In the second step, the dogs were made to lie down while their owners performed a unique action with one of the three items used in the first round. After some delay, the dogs were suddenly commanded to “do it!”

This test was repeated once for every dog, with different actions being used after a 1-minute delay first and then after an hour’s delay. The results revealed that while the dogs were more likely to perform the action when expected to do so, they were also able to mimic their owners’ actions when commanded to do so. Although dogs’ memories fade over time, this experiment made it clear that these canines have the ability to imitate actions without having performed them before.

Memory of Older Dogs

As dogs grow old, they are likely to experience confusion, irritability and memory loss. Unfortunately, canine cognitive dysfunction, or dog dementia, affects a large number of senior dogs every year.

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, a dog affected by dementia may result in a changed behavior along with memory loss. If your dog is suffering from this disease, he may gradually forget things in his daily routine, such as the location of the food bowl in the house or going outdoors when nature calls.

If your dog seems disoriented and starts to mess around the house or scratch the wrong side of the door, he may be diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction after the possibility of other ailments is eliminated. Sadly, dementia is a progressive illness and there is no method to slow it down or halt its effect.

A dog’s memory is what enables him to recognize people and the territory he inhabits. Similar to humans, sleeping well is essential for a dog to sort and store memories.

Research suggests that dogs living in pleasant and stimulating environments are likely to have better memory function than those raised in hostile environments or social isolation. More positive experiences early on in a canine’s life lead to chances of a more developed mind.

by Bobby J Davidson || You can’t buy love, but you can rescue it™

Facts About Animal Homelessness:

  1. Only 1 out of every 10 dogs born will find a permanent home.
  2. The main reasons animals are in shelters: owners give them up, or animal control finds them on the street.
  3. Each year, approximately 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed every year because shelters are too full and there aren’t enough adoptive homes. Act as a publicist for your local shelter so pets can find homes. Sign up for Shelter Pet PR.
  4. Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  5. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), less than 2% of cats and only 15 to 20% of dogs are returned to their owners.
  6. 25% of dogs that enter local shelters are purebred.
  7. About twice as many animals enter shelters as strays compared to the number that are relinquished by their owners.
  8. It’s impossible to determine how many stray dogs and cats live in the United States. Estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million.
  9. Only 10% of the animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered. Overpopulation, due to owners letting their pets accidentally or intentionally reproduce, sees millions of these “excess” animals killed annually.
  10. Many strays are lost pets that were not kept properly indoors or provided with identification.
  11. According to The Humane Society, there are about 3,500 brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the US and 10,000 rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in North America.

Here are a some adoptions for consideration: