How good are dogs memories?


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I’ve been to many different zoos and just been around animals in general quite a bit throughout my life. During my time spent with animals, I’ve learned a good amount about them. One thing that really sparks my interest is just how smart some species are. It is truly incredible to see how intelligent some species of animals are and I’ve always wondered how much information animals could retain. One specific animal that has always caught my eye is dogs. Dogs can be trained to sit, roll over, they are used for hunting and many other incredible things, the list goes on and on. I always wondered if they could remember more than just simple command or who their owner was. Could they remember and recall specific memories or moments in time?

Human beings obviously can remember and recall a lot of previous events and things that have happened to them. In order for humans to do this, scientists link this ability to self awareness. Being self aware is basically just being able to consciously know that you are one individual thing, separate from other individuals and all the other things that encompass the environment that we live in.  It is being aware of your thoughts and your feelings and to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings. This helps us in making decisions, on how and why we do what we do, it helps us in how we think about the past and what we predict for our futures. The idea that non humans, animals, can remember things that they’ve done in the past is known as episodic memory. Now this idea is obviously very controversial throughout the science world. The idea naturally assumed is that animals can not have this type of memory because they are not self aware. There are some species of birds, rate and apes that have memories very similar to episodic memories, but just aren’t quite the same. Now a new study recently published suggests that dogs may have a memory that is very similar to that of humans.

In this study, scientists asked 17 different dog owners to teach their pets to do a specific trick that they referred to as the do as I do. For instance after watching their owner jump into the air the dog should then reciprocate the behavior of their owner when told to do so. In the first untitled-1_16x9round the owner would perform a certain action and then the dog was told to do it. In the second round, the owner would perform an action and then lay down, the dog was then expected to do the same. As soon as the dog laid down, they were commanded to do it, meaning the dog had to recall the thing they did prior to laying and down and then perform that action. This is especially interesting because the dogs were not expecting that they needed to remember what they had previously did. This test was done once a minute after watching their owner and then an hour after watching their owner. The dogs were successful 33 out of the 35 times the trial was performed.

The results of this study definitely are surprising to me, the dogs were very efficient in remembering things. I definitely think that not only dogs but animals are very smart, smarter than we perceive them to be, but I definitely think this suffers from the file drawer problem. I do think this has definitely done before and just because nothing came of it scientist did not want to write and up and publish their thoughts. Another thing the article does not talk about is what kinds of dogs, how old the dogs were, how long they’ve been with their owner. I think there is definitely a lot of confounding variables that could have affected the result of this specific study. The sample size was also very small, they only had 17 dogs. It is hard, at least in my opinion to generalize this to all dogs and even more to all species of dogs.

All in all, I think dogs are very intelligent creatures, I just don’t know how similar they are to humans. I think with a higher sample size and more positive results from multiple studies would lead me to think that dogs have memories similar to humans. The one study and the small sample size is not that convincing of an argument to me that dogs have episodic memories.

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