What Do Dogs Actually Remember?
You may think your dog has an extraordinary memory. After all, he knows what time dinner is served, when he should go get his leash for a walk, and he seems to fondly remember relatives when they come for a visit every year.
"It's proven that dogs have memories, but we aren't sure quite to the extent of what or how just yet. More studies are underway as we speak and it's very exciting," says Dr. Hunter Finn, an Arlington, Texas, veterinarian who has partnered with Amazon Devices on how to keep you and your pooch well connected when you're away from home.
"What we do know, is that for the most part, dogs have a short-term memory of about two minutes," says Dr. Finn. Dogs have what we call associative and episodic memory. Associative memory is the brain's way of creating a relationship between two things. For example, when you teach your dog to do a trick like sitting or staying, he receives a reward.
Episodic memory is when the dog remembers something that has happened to him personally, like going to the dog park or throwing up after he ate some grass.
Episodic memory is tied to self-awareness and scientists are interested in learning if dogs are capable of this. It's also hard to study since we can't just ask them what they remember about the last time we went to the beach, for example.
Can a dog remember long-term?
If you've ever watched those heartwarming videos of a dog greeting his soldier owner after a year's deployment, it's obvious this supports the idea that dogs remember their current and previous owners, but we're not quite sure how long that memory runs.
Can a dog remember negative events?
"We do know that a dog who lived in unhappy or negative circumstances will have anxiety and stress associated with certain cues, such as an item, location, or scent," explains Dr. Finn. So, this likely supports the idea that dogs may remember some aspect of a negative experience, even if it's just the feeling associated with being abandoned or left outside, for instance.
Research is uncovering many facets of a dog's memory, including how some dogs can find their way home from a very long distance, or how a dog remembers a previous owner after being lost for years. What's more, dogs remember dozens and dozens of words that we teach them. Walk, ride, park or family member's names are like second nature to your dog. In fact, dogs may know as many words as a toddler. That's a significant memory.
One thing is certain. Dogs remember their owners and associate happy times with them. "The more we learn about our dog friends' memories, the more we can help create better experiences for them," says Dr. Finn. Now, go make some more happy memories with your dog.