How Long Do Dogs Remember?

Dogs possess an approximate two minute short term memory. With positive associations to people, places, and smells they can remember non-essentials such as people, places and scents for up to two minutes after encounter.

All mammals possess episodic memories that span multiple years – such as training they received during early years or remembering their mothers even years after she has passed. One study even showed puppies remembered their mother even two years after having forgotten her!

Long-Term Memory

Dogs’ long-term memory can last five years, in contrast to their short term one which lasts only two minutes. Dogs recall training they received as puppies, when meals are served and usually remember which family members visit frequently; additionally they may remember scents associated with particular people and what their voices sound like (associative memory).

Dogs tend to recall their bad behavior quickly, even when it occurs at an unknown moment in time, which means they should be less inclined to chew up an expensive leather shoe purchased as a Christmas present for your pup. On the downside, long-term memories tend to be less reliable.

Most dog owners likely already recognized that their canines had long-term memories; whether through personal experience or from anecdotal evidence such as how they greet relatives they haven’t seen in awhile or recall training to roll over on command, or whether or not dogs possess episodic memory – which allows us to recall specific past events with details like date and who else was around – has proven more difficult.

Current Biology published this week published a study showing that dogs do indeed possess episodic-like memories. Researchers asked 17 dogs to watch their owner perform an action, then imitate it a few hours later without prompting. Results demonstrated that all 17 dogs could recreate these actions spontaneously within an hour without prompting from humans.

Researchers designed their experiment in such a way as to exclude any expectation that the dogs would be tested for episodic-like memory. Instead, a new condition was added: each dog was presented with a stimulus but told not to pay any attention to it; if any memory of what they saw remained from this test then the result indicated episodic-like memory in dogs.

Short-Term Memory

Researchers have discovered that dogs have short memories, like people. Their ability to recall past events typically lasts two minutes before being forgotten altogether – this explains why your pup might forget he chewed up a pair of shoes or couch pillow just ten minutes ago! Furthermore, their short memories make teaching them new commands or behaviors difficult.

Dogs do have a remarkable long-term memory. You’ve probably seen videos on social media of people’s dogs being reunited with them after military deployment or visits from family after years apart – this is due to associative or “procedural” memory which helps your pup remember a person’s face, voice and scent.

Train and expose your puppy to new situations as often as possible to give him/her more opportunities for positive experiences and memories to associate with rewards, allowing your pup to develop good habits more quickly. A healthy diet is also vitally important – regardless of if they eat commercial kibble, wet food, home cooking or raw. Consult with your veterinarian at their annual checkups about making sure your pup’s nutrition provides everything he/she needs for memory enhancement.

Your pet needs a place to store its memories, too. That’s why it is crucial that they learn in an environment in which they can concentrate and focus. Also providing ample exercise can give your dog or cat an opportunity to access short-term memory storage capabilities.

Though your dog’s short-term memory may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean they don’t understand when you are angry with them. According to National Geographic research, dogs can recall what they saw, heard, or experienced for up to two minutes – therefore yelling at your pup for any length of time will only cause confusion as they will have forgotten why you were angry in the first place – no yelling about chewed shoes or curtains can help either!

Visual Memory

Humans possess episodic memory, which allows us to recall specific details from past experiences such as where and when an event took place and its emotional effects. This form of recall helps us recall things such as an anxious childhood scare or an unforgettable date night; but its extent in dogs remains uncertain.

Researchers believe that dogs possess visual associative memories but not episodic memories. If your pet was fearful of visiting the veterinarian and associated that experience with seeing people wearing white coats, they might never return. Or if you gave treats near a trash can with an unpleasant odor nearby, they might always associate that treat with having to come close.

But dogs do have great spatial memory, making them adept at navigating their environments. Furthermore, they possess excellent facial recognition abilities that often allow them to react similarly when confronted with similar physical characteristics in people or other dogs.

Many of us have witnessed those emotional videos showing dogs being reunited with their owners after long absences due to military service or work. While these dogs don’t recall exactly why their owners left, they still recognize them by scent as they have formed strong associative memories for this person, even though they may have not met in years.

Researchers employ the two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) paradigm to test whether dogs possess episodic-like memories. In this experiment, dogs are shown one object they’ve seen before alongside two new objects, with their role being to select the one they believe resembles the object seen before. Results from the 2AFC test prove that dogs do indeed possess episodic memories; however, over longer testing durations they seem less successful due to a decrease in processing abilities of information over time. Sinn believes this may be related to reduced ability of processing information due to decrease ability.

Voice Memory

We have all seen heart-wrenching videos of dogs being reunited with their owners after an absence, but do they really remember much? What percentage can recognize familiar voices compared to visual memories?

Short answer: dogs do have a surprising memory. Many humans tend to think that our pups only remember things for short amounts of time.

Stockholm University scientists conducted an experimental study that demonstrated how dogs could retain episodic memory for about two minutes following exposure to visual stimuli.* To perform the experiment, dogs were trained to lie down whenever their owners said “Lie down.” When researchers would say, “Do it!” they would successfully repeat whatever action had just been witnessed by repeating it themselves.

Experiments have demonstrated that dogs can recall voices just as accurately as faces; in fact, they seem far more responsive to tone than words*.

Important to realize this is because as humans, we rely heavily on voice to identify others–hence our tendency to forget things quickly about other faces. Dogs do not seem to share this issue which could explain why their visual memories seem more secure than ours.

Still, it’s essential that your pup develops positive associations with people if you will be leaving them alone for extended periods. Otherwise, negative associative memories such as fear of men or specific objects could develop and lead to dangerous behaviors like biting and property destruction. In such an instance, it will be necessary to seek professional help in order to break these associations and retrain your pup accordingly.

Lisa Thompson
 

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