New Study Finds Dogs Remember a Whole Lot

My doorbell has been broken for a few years, but every time my 9-year-old dog, Leroy, hears one chiming on a TV show, he looks at the front door.

Many pet owners have similar tales to tell about their dogs being able to remember long-ago experiences and events. And now we have proof that this really is possible. A new study found that dogs may have a more complex form of memory than most other nonhuman animals (sorry, elephants).

“Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you,” Sting once sang, and these lyrics could apply to our dogs, too. They’re not only watching us, but they’re remembering what they’re observing, no matter how trivial it may seem to us.

In the study at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, published Nov. 23 in Current Biology, 17 dogs were taught a training method called “Do As I Do.” The dogs would watch their owners perform an action. When the dogs were told, “Do it” and imitated their owners’ action, they were rewarded with a treat.

Next, the owners performed various actions but told the dogs to lie down instead of “Do it.” After a while, the dogs began lying down without being told to do so. The study’s authors noted that this showed the dogs had lost the expectation that they would be given the “Do it” command to imitate their owners.

Finally, the owners performed various actions, and when their dogs would lie down, the owners would wait either a minute or an hour and then give them the “Do it” command.

Some of the actions were unfamiliar to the dogs, such as their owners tapping on an open umbrella. The dogs would be led behind a partition, and a minute to an hour later would be led back to the umbrella and given the “Do it” command.

The dogs were able to remember what their owners had done, and tapped the umbrella with their paws.

“We cannot directly investigate what is in the dog’s mind,” psychologist Claudia Fugazza, an author of the study and owner of a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog who participated, told the Washington Post. “So we have to find behavioral evidence of what they expect or not.”

Remembering events in our lives is known as episodic memory. Until recently, only humans were thought to have this ability, but studies have found evidence that rats, monkeys and birds also have it, and so do dogs.

However, the researchers said the dogs don’t have full-fledged episodic memory, which would give them self awareness. Fugazza told NPR she didn’t think there was a method available to test whether dogs are self aware.

Victoria Templer, a behavioral neuroscientist at Providence College who wasn’t involved in the study, told NPR the results could be useful in helping scientists understand how episodic memory developed in humans and how it’s helped us to survive.

One interesting possibility Templer suggested is that “we evolved the ability to relive the past in order to imagine the future.”

Photo credit: YouTube


Darla G
Darla G2 years ago

I find this fascinating especially since I have rescue dogs and I often wonder what they remember from their past.

Melania P
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Not surprising, there is a lot we don't know about animals yet

Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 years ago

As smart as I think dogs are, I don't believe my dog would understand the concept of having to tap on the umbrella. Agree with Naomi, would have liked longer demo.

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer2 years ago

Hmmmm, interesting though I would haveliked a better or longer video.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

if it's related to food, dogs will remember!

Janne O
Janne O2 years ago

Nope, this isn't surprising at all. Dogs are clever and learn easily. Of course their memory is better than what people give them credit for. As is their intelligence.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

heather g.
heather g2 years ago

Occasionally, I watch TV program called Pet Heroes. Seems most dogs don't even have to be shown something before they realize that their owner needs help and goes about rescuing them without prior training. It just relies on love, loyalty and their unquestioned intelligence.

Amy C.
Amy C2 years ago

of course they're smart, i dont get why people dont think that