How does the memory of dogs work?

To deepen and improve our relationship with dogs in the so-called “multispecies family”, it is of particular interest to know how dogs’ memory works, both in the short and long term (Getty Images)

Dogs are very intelligent animals. and many times that intelligence is qualified by evaluating their memory, that is, the number of times they need a repetition of a procedure to learn it.

Although this concept only encompasses what we define as practical intelligence, one of the most important experts in the study of canine behavior, Stanley Coren, has based his canine intelligence scale on these parameters. On this scale he has placed the Border Collie, which has an excellent memory, as the most intelligent breed of dog, circumscribing the scope of intelligence to this specific aspect.

To deepen and improve our relationship with dogs in the so-called “multispecies family”, it is of particular interest to know how dogs’ memory works, both in the short and long term.

Memory functions as an important component of the adaptive system of any animal, being essential for its survival (Getty Images)
Memory functions as an important component of the adaptive system of any animal, being essential for its survival (Getty Images)

obviously everyone dogs have memory and can remember your family, other dogs, procedures, places, etc. Memory functions as an important component of the adaptive system of any animal, being essential for its survival. since it allows you to remember, for example, the frequent location of a prey in the wild or where food is stored in the domestic environment.

In the same way that happens with the human being, the dog has two essential types of memory: short-term, also called working memory, and long-term memory. According to the latest research short term memory it lasts a maximum of two minutes, although dogs are said to be able to remember events that have recently occurred for no more than seventy seconds.

If we link memory with the reward after having satisfactorily carried out an order, the maximum time to connect the reward with the executed action is four seconds, stipulating one second as the ideal latency interval to clearly relate one thing to the other.

If we link the memory with the reward after having successfully carried out an order (Getty Images)
If we link the memory with the reward after having successfully carried out an order (Getty Images)

After ten seconds, the dog will not relate the reward at all to the action carried out. The short-term memory of dogs is essential since it allows them to retain information for a short period of time, a few seconds, which they use to carry out their daily activities.

Meanwhile, long-term memory stores transcendent memories in a lasting way.

Another classification defines and establishes the non-declarative memory, and links it to acquired skills and habits, taking special prominence when through repetition it is possible to transform a ritual into a routine and then this into an automatic habit. In the same classification another memory, the declarative one, is the one that allows us to simply remember facts.

It is interesting to know that dogs, unlike humans, they live the present without feeling nostalgic when thinking about the past since their memory is associative, in such a way that they relate images, circumstances and facts of the past with specific events of the present.

Finally, it is important to point out that dogs recognize and remember fundamentally through smell, their most developed sense fixing in their memory what we call “olfactory images” (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Finally, it is important to point out that dogs recognize and remember fundamentally through smell, their most developed sense fixing in their memory what we call “olfactory images” (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The past act no longer exists. There is only the result, if the dog he did some disaster it will be a useless task to challenge him because he does not remember who did it, he only perceives the anger. You know something is wrong but you don’t know what shouldn’t have been.

These types of associations remain forever in the memory of dogs and are what generate fears, phobias and other sensations that are very difficult to modify.

Lastly, it is important to note that dogs recognize and remember fundamentally through smell, their most developed sense fixing in their memory what we call: “olfactory images”.

The sight, in the dog, is a less developed sense than in the human being, in such a way that the visual associations are less consistent than the olfactory ones.

*Prof. Dr. Juan Enrique Romero @drromerook is a veterinarian. Specialist in University Education. Master in Psychoimmunoneuroendocrinology. Former Director of the School Hospital for Small Animals (UNLPam). University Professor in several Argentine universities. International speaker.

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