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How Much Does Your Dog Really Remember?

Videos of dogs reuniting with their long lost families or even just seeing their owners after long trips flood the internet constantly. Their tails wag so hard their whole bodies jiggle and they’re jumping for joy within minutes. So how is it that, after such long periods of times, the dogs remember their owner, and what other things are dogs capable of remembering? 

Scientists have found that, often, dogs only remember information and events that are useful to them. Monique Udell, who works at Oregon State University as an associate professor and as the Director for the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory, found that dogs’ memories vary based on the context and importance of the memory in the dogs’ lives. Dogs can often remember owners after years of separation as well as remembering the location of their food bowls, the route to home, and the how-to when it comes totricks

Often, they only retain the memories that they find necessary to help them survive. In a lot of cases for domesticated dogs, that means forming bonds with their owners and these bonds can clearly last for long periods of time. These bonds don’t form overnight, however, it requires a lot of attention and care to form bonds like the ones seen in the reuniting video. The longer a dog is with someone, whether that is a fellow dog or an owner, allows them to better remember that person later on and after some time apart. This also has to factor in age as the younger the dog, the harder it is for them to remember something from their past. Though everything about their memory depends on the bonds the dogs have with other dogs and other people. 

Other scientists, such as Dr. Claudia Fugazza, a researcher working atEötvös Loránd University in the Department of Ethology in Budapest, Hungary, wanted to examine dog’ss’ ability to possess episodic memory. Dr. Fugazza studied dogs and developed theDo as I Do” method to test the dogs’ abilities to follow after and repeat actions that they’d just witnessed. This involved teaching the dog the “Do it” cue and after some additional helpful training, the trainer would perform an action and the dog was given the cue “Do it.” The dogs were then seen replicating the action they’d witnessed. 

In 2016 Fugazza adjusted the “Do as I Do” experiment to test episodic memory. They trained the dogs in line with the initial “Do it” cue training and then, after mastering that, moved on to training the dogs to lay down each time the trainer performed an action. They would then suddenly say “Do it” to test if the dogs could perform an action without any prior training. They were tested a minute after seeing the action and then an hour after and though their ability to accurately repeat the action faded with time, they were still capableof performingthe action they’d seen. Thus, while the research is still constantly developing, it is clear that dogs have some capability to remember events that have occurred, even without excessive training toremember

Like humans, however, dogs memory and their ability to remember things deteriorate as time goes on. One prime reason for this deterioration is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, a neurological disease that occurs in older dogs that is very similar to humans’ dementia. This disease causes dogs to forget their long term memories, like people they see regularly and habits they’ve made like where to go to the bathroom or where their food is. This memory loss can be furthered by low-quality food and lack of nutrients in their food and though this isn’t a fix-all, it is important that dogs have a healthy diet consisting of many goodnutrients so they can have a fulfilling life and remember as much as possible about that life. 

The capacity and strength of a dog’s memory is still under investigation and there is no clear answer as to how much a dog knows and remembers, but dogs seem to remember enough to survive and thrive in good quality environments. 

Written by Dani Forte

Photo by Ivan Babydov on