Your Dog Can Remember the Things You Do

April 21, 2019
Have you ever wondered what your dog can remember? A study in Hungary has shown some very interesting insights into dog memory - read here to learn more!

Animals have certain abilities that we tend to underestimate. Some studies have shown that a dog can remember the things that its owner does. This is separate from understanding their owner’s behavior.

And did you know that dogs and human beings even share certain mental abilities? Maybe that’s why they can get so close. Learn more in this article.

A dog can remember a lot more than you might think

A dog lying on the ground.

Dogs’ intelligence goes much further than just knowing when to ask for food or responding to its name.

An investigation carried out in Hungary confirms that pets, after a series of training sessions, can remember and even imitate their owners’ actions. The only problem is that canines have more of a short term memory than humans.

People remember things that happened a long time ago. You can probably remember things that happened when you were a kid, even small details that aren’t important. You’ll remember past vacations, or even or a joke that a friend told you when you were kids. Or you can probably recall when you received your favorite toy for instance.

This type of memory is called semantic memory, or memories with meaning. This doesn’t happen with dogs, since they just have the capacity to remember more recent events.

Current Biology has published the findings of a study carried out by the Ethology Department of the Eotvos Lorand University (Hungary). According to this study, dogs have a similar memory to that of humans. This type of memory is in relation to certain events in the past.

The chief investigator affirms that the results are one further step in breaking down existing barriers between people and animals. Or, as she says, between human animals and non-human animals.

While we already think pets are smart, they keep surprising us with regards to new discoveries of their mental abilities. Despite having a different origin, we “share” certain mental characteristics.

Episodic memory in dogs

The type of memory called episodic memory is related to the evoking of some past event. It’s different from semantic, or meaningful, memories because it’s related to a feeling or a sensation of what’s happened before.

In animals, the capacity to reason, and obtain information about, a certain event is considered “similar to episodic memory”. However, there aren’t any existing studies yet that show that canines are conscious remembering an event.

In previous investigations, it was discovered that canines can imitate certain human actions. This is especially with regard to the actions of their owners, even a day after having been with them.

The only condition that animals need for this repetition is to receive the same command as before. In this way, the dog knows it needs to pay attention and behave, or to remember the behavior it has observed.

Dogs have a certain type of semantic, or meaningful, memory, which deciphers the message (the command). Then it prepares to give an answer (the action). That’s what the findings in the Hungarian study have confirmed.

But, of course, the investigators can’t ask the animal what it remembers about the event or action. That’s why they’ve created a certain imitation trick, so that the dog repeats what it remembers of its owner’s habit. In that way, if the owner jumped for instance, then the pet imitated its owner once the person gave the command.

How can dogs remember?

A man talking to his dog.

The scientists in the study taught dogs of different breeds to complete a certain action after seeing simple human actions. For example, the person touched an umbrella. Then, they carried out a round of training so that when the dogs saw their owner do the same action, they lay down on the ground (the corresponding action).

This “experiment” on its own isn’t conclusive evidence to know exactly how episodic memory in dogs works, of course. However, the scientists proved that dogs can remember the actions they’ve seen, especially when they’re carried out by a person close to them. This is even the case when they don’t receive a reward for doing so.

In these imitation tests, the canines lay down even before receiving the order. For example, the owner indicated that their dog should lay down if the owner touched the umbrella. Then, the dog remembered and carried out the action that the owner had shown it previously. That was the case even when the owner didn’t give the dog the command.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of “correct” responses by the dogs happened only a short time after they first saw the action. What about when the owner repeated the action over one hour after the initial action? Well, the corresponding action wasn’t remembered if the command wasn’t given.

This shows, then, that a dog can remember what its owner does, but only during a short period of time.