Do dogs have memories? Several studies about animal learning, in particular how dogs learn, are focused on them memorising objects and actions useful to complete a specific assignment. According to recent studies, man’s best friend is also able to elaborate on these strategies to solve problems and learn by imitation. Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary doctor and expert in pet behaviour, expands on this aspect helping us to understand more about it.
A dog’s memory: a type for every occasion
There are three types of memory that our best friend uses:
– Short-term memory: allows them to recall recent events and actions however they may forget the things memorised after completing the task. Dogs use this type of memory to make consecutive actions: ‘I take the ball, I put it in the kennel, I look for a better hiding place, I recover the ball’.
– Long-term memory: can be compared to a big library from which, with the help of an expert librarian, i.e. the hippocampus, it’s possible to recover the memories when needed. This type of memory collects all the dog’s life references (experiences, faces, smells, objects and noises) and much of the information collected during the sensitive periods (the first 3-4 months of life and adolescence up to the age of the sexual maturity). Every thing dogs experience during these periods will be etched in their memories, performing an adaptive function that reminds the pups to not repeat potentially fatal mistakes and to recognise danger. In addition, a dog, just like a human being, never stops learning, thus adding to their memory, however more repetitions of the experience will be necessary to imprint the event in their minds with the passage of time.
– Procedural memory: allows the animal to carry out complex actions such as solving a mental activation game, passing an object through an opening by rotating it or finding its own way home. In fact, it creates a sort of map in its mind that it will use when faced with similar situations, thus adapting its actions accordingly.
Dogs and memory: how should we behave?
So, every experience leaves a trace in a dog’s memory: some of these are more lasting than others. These long-term memories include positive experiences (fixed thanks to reinforcements such as food, cuddles and social reinforcement) but also negative experiences (unfortunately these experiences, though necessary for their growth, tend to fix in the dog’s memories in an immediate and lasting way). So, when we interact with our dog remember that they can remember too!