Do dogs remember places they’ve been before?
Dogs have episodic memory, just as humans do. However, dogs cannot recall those events for years after.
People and pets have different types of memories. … Studies have been done with dogs to establish their memory capacities. When it comes to long-term memory, researchers believe that dogs will remember events that were strongly positive or negative and have a major impact on the animal’s ability to survive.
Like Humans, Dogs and Cats Can Store an Array of Memories
“Dogs and cats have different types of memories, just like we do. They have spatial memory, remembering where things are located, short-term memories, and long-term memories,” says Dr. Brian Hare, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Los Angeles-based veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber adds that pets are capable of storing many different types of memories—“from the little things like knowing where their food or litter box is, to recognizing people and places they haven’t seen in years.”
According to Hare, short-term memory, or “working memory,” is a kind of memory that allows people to keep information—like a phone number—in mind for a few minutes and mentally manipulate it. “This may sound simple, but working memory is crucial for any kind of problem solving,” he explains. “Working memory has been found to correlate with skills in learning, math, reading, and language. Researchers have even found some evidence that in children, working memory is more predictive of academic success than IQ.”
Long-term memories, on the other hand, are stored in your brain and can be retrieved at will, like childhood memories, or what you did last week or last year. “Long-term memories do not fade in order. You might remember something that happened to you years ago better than you remember what you did yesterday,” he explains.
To distill it down, Dr. Bruce Kornreich, associate director at the Cornell Feline Health Center in Ithaca, New York, says that “short-term memory is anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds and long-term memory can remain almost indefinitely.”
“There are many examples of cats and dogs having long-term memory in both studies and in real-life events,” says Dr. Jenna Sansolo, associate veterinarian at Ardsley Veterinary Associates in Ardsley, New York. “For instance, when pet owners go on vacations and come home to dogs that show the same excitement a human child would show after not seeing their family for the same amount of time, or the countless videos of dogs whose owners come home from military deployments that are all over the internet.” Sansolo also points out that pets who have been abused or in less than ideal living situations can also show proof of long-term memory. “I have seen many patients who are scared of tall men, hats, certain noises, etc., which they can relate to a negative memory or event that has happened in the distant past,” she explains.
Laurie Santos, director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, notes that when we think of long-term memories in pets, we are often referring to “episodic memories—remembering particular episodes from long ago.” She adds that while the topic hasn’t been extensively studied, she and her colleagues have seen evidence that pets have some episodic memory abilities. “For example, dogs can remember where and what kinds of food were hidden over longer time horizons, suggesting theyre tracking some information about how and where food was hidden,” she explains. “Theres also evidence that dogs behave differently when owners leave for long versus short periods of time, suggesting that pets might remember something about how long ago their companion left.”
Do Dogs Have Memories Of Previous Owners?
Researchers have no doubt of dogs’ ability to remember people. Our unique bond with dogs, and their famous loyalty, depends upon them remembering us from one encounter to the next. In fact, observations of dogs in shelter environments suggests that dogs are very quick to remember and form attachments to new people. However, there’s evidence that dogs younger than two years old have a shorter memory span for family members.
So it might be the case that dogs adopted into a new home while they are still young are more likely to forget their previous home. Whereas an adult dog will carry memories of their former owners for longer.
Dogs do have good memories, and they start to use them from a very early age. Puppies are able to remember how to open a puzzle toy which has been demonstrated by their mom or a human handler by the time they are eight weeks old. And as they grow up, successful training will depend upon them being able to remember good habits, like toilet training. But also the correct response to multiple different verbal or visual cues.
In a 2012 owner survey about pet dog memory, owners reported that the things their dogs never forgot were:
Conversely, they believed their dogs only had short memories for pain, separation, unfamiliar dogs and strange people. But perhaps it’s not surprising that some of our dogs’ most impressive feats of memory relate to their greatest super sense – smell. A recent study found that dogs have a better memory for odors than either rats or humans do.
Your Dog Forgets You When You Leave
Do dogs have memories? Yes! Dogs are excellent at recalling all kinds of information. But there is still debate about whether they can use their memory to ‘look back in time’ over their life or not. There are also some simple but important measures dog owners can take to ensure their memories serve them well for as long as possible.
Dogs have impressive memories, and they can remember a great deal of information about people they have met before and places they have been. The learning process is also closely linked to, and relies upon, memory. From earliest puppyhood, dogs remember lessons from their mom about how to look after themselves and play nicely with other dogs. And when they’re older, they store memories of training you do with them.
Luckily for us, researchers have explained many aspects and nuances of dogs’ memories, which we can share with you in this article.
Scientists share our interest in the question “do dogs have memories?” not just because so many of us keep them as pets in our homes. It is also thought that dogs’ memories are a good model for understanding human memory, and the onset and progression of conditions like dementia. So let’s take a closer look at the inner world of our dogs’ memories.
There are lots of different aspects to memory. Some terms to describe memory are well known, like short term and long term. But besides different periods of memory, there are also several different types of memory. Some of these are easily demonstrated in dogs, but others have been harder to prove.
Spatial memory is how dogs and other animals remember the layout of places. It includes how to navigate around them, and where to find things that they’ve seen before, or left behind.
Dogs frequently have good spatial memory, and there’s a sound evolutionary reason for this. Several closely related wild species, such as wolves and foxes, have been observed storing surplus food for a future meal. Being able to remember where they left it is vital for survival.
On the other hand, episodic memory is our ability to ‘go back in time’ and recall information about events. Episodic details are things like when or where something happened, and who else was present at the time.
Incidental details are pieces of information which don’t carry any significance at the time. It’s easy to demonstrate in humans, because we can talk about our memories. But how vivid are dogs memories of their lives before today? Can they also go back and extract those incidental details if they need them?
Until fairly recently, this ability was thought to be uniquely human. Since the turn of the 21st century, evidence has been published which both refutes and supports the possibility that dogs have episodic and incidental memories. Hopefully it’s an area researchers will keep pursuing until we have some firm answers!