How does a dog’s memory work?

How does a dogs memory work

Dogs have different memory mechanisms than humans. On the one hand, they have a short-term memory that only lasts a few seconds, so they will forget what they ate yesterday or that it was they who bit the chair leg a few hours ago. On the other hand, your long-term memory is of the associative type, which will be better understood with some examples:

  • If I sit on the command to sit, they will give me a prize
  • Going to the vet is the place where they prick me or touch my abdomen when it hurts, so I don’t want to go back
  • That neighbourhood dog with whom I usually coincide always tries to bite me, I will be attentive and as it approaches I will bark
  • A man mistreated me, so I must avoid all men because they can hurt me
  • As we see in the examples, they are simple and direct associations.
  • The latest studies certify that they could also have a certain episodic memory, much more complex, for which reason they could

How much are they able to remember?

For things of little relevance from day to day, we talk about a matter of seconds or minutes, but they are very skilled at making associations (like the previous examples) and, especially in very negative stimuli, they may remember it for the rest of their lives.

For example, do they remember that they have done something wrong or if they have left the ball by the wayside?

It’s the kind of memory that won’t last more than a few minutes. Many readers will think that «when I come home and he’s done something wrong, he knows it.» Reality shows us that our dog is making a different association. For example, if he tends to defecate at home, he associates that when the house smells of faeces, its owner arrives very angry. That is why they adopt a submissive position or hide, but in reality, they do not know the reason for their anger.

How do they remember their owners and for how long?

This fact is difficult to study, but we continually hear cases in which a lost dog is reunited with its owner and they recognize him. Therefore, the evidence shows us that they are capable of remembering their owner for the rest of their lives, especially in cases with a strong and prolonged bond. The mechanism is still the association: recognizing a smell, a voice or a face (probably this much less) and associating it with that person they appreciate so much.

Can you remember a person or a place where you have been years ago?

Probably not. It will depend on whether that person or that place «left their mark», for better or for worse. Negative associations of fear or abuse tend to be remembered longer, as it is an intrinsic survival mechanism.