A Look at Memory in Dogs

There is a distinct difference in the memory capacity of dogs as compared to that of humans. One of the key differences in the memory capacity of dogs as opposed to humans is that dogs can only hold an image in their mind for a few short hours, and they do not have the ability to recall those images later on. After a few hours, the image in the dog’s brain gets crowded out. People on the other hand, think by images.

The theory behind this notion has been tested in different experiments, particularly one where an experimenter tested dogs’ abilities to recall memories. The dog involved with the experiment was leashed, and about nine yards away, the experimenter placed a piece of meat underneath one of three containers, in full view of the dog. The experimenter waited no more than 30 minutes and released the dog to determine if he could remember which container had the meat in it.

The dogs participating in the experiment eventually learned to open a cage in one particular way to access meat, and in another way to access bread, in situations where they could see the food first. A wolf was tried in the same experiment, and failed to remember the location of the meat in instances where he was restrained for more than five minutes. Ultimately, the author of this study found that dogs were able to remember exactly how to open wire doors during the experiment. However, when the food was not provided as a stimulant, the dogs did not remember what they obtained as a result of their actions.

This, of course, impacts the question many owners and trainers have about dogs and their ability to remember their absent masters. Based on the information found in this study, a dog is likely not able to remember and reflect about an absent master. The dog will look for the master at the accustomed time, and will also be able to remember and recognize the owner based on his movement. The dog will not sit and reflect on the absence of his master, until the proper triggers are put in place.

This study is just one of many placed on the memories of dogs and while this study was indicative of general dog memory capacities, some of the most revealing studies are those that study the hunting patterns of dogs. Typically, after a dog has hunted in an area two to three times, they will remember the terrain quite well, even after a period of several years. This is because dogs remember smells much more than appearance. While dogs have strong scent-associated memories, they do lack in other areas, particularly when it comes to remembering paths or alternations, such as those presented in a maze.

Memory studies that test the way dogs react to maze like situations, and their ability to go through these courses without error, found that dogs are only accurate if they learned the course within the past few minutes. When compared to other animals, such as raccoons, who were able to recall specific instructions as much as 24 hours later, dogs seem to be lacking in terms of their memory abilities in this department. Ultimately, when it comes to understanding dog memory and behavior, it is most important to understand that while dogs do have strong scent-related memories, they cannot be compared in terms of their memory capacity to humans in other situations where they are tested to recall different types of memories.

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