Every dog owner can tell you that their dog remembers things but how long is a dogs memory? Dogs can remember what sit means, they remember the time you yelled at them when they had an accident on the carpet, and they remember what the lead looks like each time you pull it out of the closet.
But how does a dog exactly remember things? What does their memory look like? Is a dog memory span similar to that of a human memory span? In this article, we explore this and more!
Do Dogs Have Memories?
There are two kinds of explicit memories that humans have: semantic and episodic. Semantic memories are really common in the animal kingdom, as they are the memories that are memorized or repeated as fact and then recalled. Episodic is the kind of memory humans might use when asked about how their day went, recalling specific actions, place, and details that make up an experience.
Until recently, the only kind of memory that has been considered to be present in the animal kingdom (and in dogs) is the semantic memory. However, research has shown that dogs possess some sort of episodic memory. This was found out because dogs could mimic actions that owners did one time and then do a semantic action such as laying down on a carpet as soon as the task was completed.
This means that dogs not only have semantic memory, but also a type of episodic memory that can mean they recall experiences in their lives.
How Does a Dog’s Memory Work?
Simple speaking, a dog’s memory works only as good as the memory is useful to him or her. For example, a dog that needs to find food on the street to survive can watch a human throw a cheeseburger into a dumpster, and then remember that they saw the cheeseburger, and therefore go to look for it even though it isn’t there.
The memories that a dog can recall mainly have to do with training and treats. A dog can remember that you gave them a treat when they sat down, and so now they will sit when you bring out a treat. They also have to do with the people and animals around them for the majority of their life.
Many dogs can remember the animals that lived with them for long periods of time and then passed away. They also remember pets who come over for playdates and outings, getting excited when they come back to the same location or to their yard and house to play with them again.
How Long is a Dog’s Memory?
To answer this question, we must keep in mind that the things that dogs remember depending on their beneficial assets to the situation they are in. This means that dogs can remember things forever, or at least for a very long period of time.
For example, when a dog’s human leaves on a military mission, they can remember them when they return, even if it’s years later. However, if you ask your dog “where’s the ball?” they might not know, simply because it wasn’t as important to them in that moment.
Additionally, a dog’s memory depends on short term and long-term memory as well as associative and real memory. Associative memory is similar to episodic memory. This means that a dog will associate negative reinforcement with negative behaviour, and positive reinforcement with positive behaviour.
If the negative reinforcement is not associated with a specific action immediately, however, the negativity will be associated with whatever action or object is closest to that reinforcement and then be imprinted in the dogs brain. If you only ever take your dog in the car when they are going to the vet, they will associate the car with the vet and possibly find it unpleasant.
Short term memory in dogs can last around five minutes, but their long term memory can last much longer. Dogs can remember words and actions for their lifetime, and are typically not susceptible to long term memory loss unless they have an inhibiting disease.
Dogs’ memories are important to humans because they provide opportunities for training and instruction. Without memory, dogs wouldn’t be able to do things like play fetch, memorize commands, or bond with their owner.
Humans are still doing research on how a dog’s memory works, and exactly how much detail they can remember. We know now that dogs definitely remember things that are important to them and their owners, and that their memory is what gives them such a loving bond.