You may think you are living with a dog who has a great memory. Though, the dog who had obedience training sessions remembers commands and signals. You may have noticed that your dog has a good memory, e.g. they know which fences in the park are the most fun to bark at, or what is the shop that they will get their treats from. However, does a dog’s memory function the same as a human’s? Actually, no. not exactly the same but maybe sometimes it is.
Dogs use associative memory so they can remember their favorite stuff
When you walk with your dog at a park or a street, and then you repeat the same walk in the same place again, you most probably can remember the road the next time. However, dogs actually cannot recall roads the way you do. Science proved that they don’t have a good direction memory.
E.g. some dogs know that they are going for a walk when they see the owner wearing their walking shoes. Once they built an association between shoes and walks they will always get excited when you wear the shoes in front of them.
If you noticed your dog had an associative memory that is not the best for them, you can change that. It takes a lot of training though.
If you invited a friend over and you want your dog to love him, you can give him treats, toys, or positive attention in order to make your dog associate the person with these positive things. They might not remember the person the same way as a human, but he will always remember him from the association.
Do dogs have memory for bad experiences?
Dogs cannot have the same human memory, but they can remember some negative associations that we call ‘bad memories.’
E.g. if a dog is always scared of the waiting room of the veterinarian, they must have been through a bad experience at the same place. They don’t usually what happened exactly, but they can remember how negative it was. So, they associated the vet with fear.
You can also get your dog some positive experiences that can help them move on from the negative ones that led to negative associations. E.g. make some joyful trips to the vet with your dog to make them associate the place with something positive. But remember, the bigger association will win at the end.
Does my dog remember the day we met?
Most probably, you remember exactly what happened the day your dog first came home. So, does your dog remember this too? Most probably they don’t. Your dog remembers you very well, but they don’t remember the day you both met the first time in the same way you do.
However, dogs might have a kind of episodic memory, they have the ability to remember some special events from the past. However, this research indicates that something like that is very limited in dogs’ memories. Your dog is not able to remember the memory of coming to your house for the first time as you do.
But, associative memory makes it easy for them to remember you as a person and how much they love you. Also, they have a very strong sense of smell which also helps them a lot in remembering who you are even after a long time no see.
But I’m sure my dog remembers some special events!
Dogs don’t have a great episodic memory as we said above, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t remember any event that happened with them. This is because that the interpretation of humans is just totally different than us as humans.
We are verbal, that’s why we do understand and remember things as it is. However, dogs are not the same, so we are not sure if they have a sense of self same as ours.
However, some researches indicated that dogs might have something similar to episodic memory. But they also cannot keep this memory for a long time.
Your dog will never forget you, though
Your dog is not able to remember all your time together, and he might not even remember his puppyhood. However, he remembers seeing you leaving home for example. So, he will celebrate and will be very excited to see you at night because he has a strong associative memory with you.