how long is a dog's memory

How Long is a Dog’s Memory? The Ultimate Guide.


How long is a dog’s memory is probably the trickiest question for a dog owner. And there are different arguments that people assert in answering this. Some believe that canines have powerful memories, while others assume that pups only live in the moment and most of their memories are short termed like a fish.

In fact, some people even argue that canines don’t have any memories at all! Fidos only remember things for a certain period, and the way they recall their memories is very different from humans.

As a new pet parent, you may think that your furball has a pretty good memory. After all, the fella has been through a lot of obedience trainings and is quite efficient at remembering hand signals and multiple commands.

Do dogs think of events the same way as us? Is our version of memory and our pup’s version of memory being two different things? Dogs remember that walking on the road could cost them an accident, but they don’t remember that chewing up a fancy shoe is a big NO. So how do their memories work? Do they even have memories? If so, what does it looks like?

In this article, we will explore how long is a dog’s memory and how dogs remember different things. Read on to understand all about the memory span of your four-legged friend.

traces in a dog long-term memory

Do dogs have memories?

Although a lot of research has to be done on how long is a dog’s memory, but it is proven that your canines have memories.

Being human, we have two types of explicit memories, including semantic and episodic memory. Semantics are the kind of memories that are first memorized or repeated and then recalled. These memories are pretty common in almost every animal.

On the other side, humans use episodic memory to recall a specific action or some particular details that make up an experience. Examples of episodic memory include answering questions about how the day went or how a place was.

It was believed that the only kind of memory present in our dogs is semantic memory. However, some latest research shows that canines have a sort of episodic memory that helps them mimics actions. That is why when you bring out a treat and ask your dog to sit down, the pooch immediately sits and waits for the treat.

This means dogs do have some memory that helps them recall the past experiences in their life.

How does a dog’s memory work?

How many of your pooches get excited when they see you picking up their leash or saying the word “treat”? Mostly, right?

Our canines must, therefore, recall what happens when we pick up their leash. But this is not because they understand that having a leash on means they are about to go out for a walk. Instead, dogs associate that positive things happen when owners put their leash on.

A canine’s system of storing and recalling memories is way different from ours. As a result, many dog trainers, breeders, and even behaviorists believe that a dog’s memory is neither long nor short-termed. They aren’t likely to remember the times they destroyed your favorite footwear or chewed up the couch. Although they do remember a few things but with the help of association.

Types of dog memory

How long is a dog’s memory?

To figure out the answer to this question, we need to understand that canines remember different events based on the beneficial assets of circumstances they are in. This statement means your pooch is capable of memorizing things either forever or for quite an extended period.

For instance, when you come home after a long day, your dog still knows who you are. However, if you ask the fuzzy fella,” where is your toy?” he may seem unaware as this information was insignificant to him.

Moreover, canine memories mainly rely on associative, long-term, short-term, and real memory.

To have a better understanding of how long is a dog’s memory, we have to study the varied types of memories.

Types of dog memories

Due to the lack of experimental evidence regarding dog memory, we can’t be sure that every pooch recalls memories in the same way. However, according to dog behaviorists, here are the types of memories dogs can have:

·       Associative Memory

Humans remember vivid events due to their episodic memory. This memory helps us to reflect and relive these moments. But pups have something called associative memory. They are believed to remember things based on association. For example, if you are used to putting on your hat before going out on a walk, your fluffy friend will think you are going out for a walk every time you wear that hat.

Association works in a negative direction as well. For instance, if your pooch dislikes vet visits, he will panic every time you put him in the car. Your dog may associate car rides with the vet checkup.

Dogs are capable of associating things with scents. Canines have a potent sense of smell, allowing them to remember things better than humans. The sense of hearing also helps them associating things together.

Emotions can influence a dog's memory

·       Negative associative memory

Associative learning can either be good or bad. Canines exhibit nervous behaviors in situations they have had a negative experience before. Aggressive voices, car rides, loud noises, vacuums, and sudden bangs may make your dog extremely scared because the fellow has associated all these things with bad events.

A dog’s memory is not identical to ours. Once a canine has associated a scary event with certain actions, he will try his best to save himself from that event. The pooch may panic or feel stressed every time the event occurs. That can the reason why your pup barks at the vacuum.

Sadly, the stronger the negative association is, the difficult it will be to alter it with a positive experience.

·       Changing negative associative memory

Changing a negative association is difficult but not impossible. To alter a negative association, dog trainers suggest rewriting the pup’s brain by delivering positive outcomes in situations that usually bring out the pup’s anxious side. Owners need to replace the negative memories with a positive association to see better outcomes.

For instance, if your pup has associated a car ride with a visit to the vet, try driving the dog to his favorite places and not the veterinary clinic.

Remember, associative memories create relations between different events, and negative relations are more substantial than positive ones. Therefore, bad memories will diminish, but gradually.

How does the dog perceive time

·       Short Term Memory

Short-term memories are the memories that retain present information. These memories enable us to store and process information for a specific period. Short-term memories are significant for problem-solving and cognitive functions. These memories are also essential in learning.

Studies suggest that dog’s short-term memories are too short that they can forget an event within 2 minutes of its occurrence. The average short term memory span of most canines is roughly 27 sec. However, if the event significantly impacts the fido, he can remember it for ten or more minutes.

Nevertheless, due to a lack of research on the subject, it is still unknown if short-term memories can help our dogs with their problem-solving skills.

·       Long Term Memory

Unlike short-term memories, dogs can retain long-term memories much longer. Long-term memories help your pup remember words, actions, and consequences for the rest of their life.

These memories are not vulnerable to any memory loss unless a dog has an inhibiting disease.

It is often argued that do dogs even have a long-term memory? And if they have, what makes them chew different stuff when they are specifically told not to do so? Let’s have a deeper look at both sides of the story.

If dogs don’t have this memory, how do they remember their owners for quite a long time? Or how do they recognize their human pack after years and years of separation? The internet is flooded with more than a million videos of dogs being reunited with their owners. If dogs don’t have any long-term memory, why do they exhibit an emotional reaction to a previous owner?

A simple answer is that canines can retain long-term memories, and the emotional bonding between a human and a dog is the strongest evidence of this statement. It is also the answer to how long is a dog’s memory. Canines can and do remember their owners.

But they find it challenging to understand that chewing an expensive couch is a quirky decision. Why? Because pups cannot reason that this particular action results in annoyed parents.

dog education at a younger age

Memory or imprint?

By this point, it is clear that canines have long-term memories. And they can remember different events for quite some time. Yet, there is an ongoing debate if it is a memory or an imprint of an incident. Let’s see how these two concepts differ.

Memory helps us create some images of a particular event in our minds. It enables us to “recall” our feelings and reactions to a specific event. If we talk about a memory, we can call back everything about it.

Imprint, in contrast, only represents a specific aspect of an event. It’s basically a fraction of long-term memory. And this is what dog behaviorists believe that our dogs have.

Imprint is what our canines remember. It forms their long-term memory. It is the form of associative behavior that makes it possible for us to teach our dogs different tricks commands.

 Commonly Asked Questions

1.    Do dogs have a sense of time?

The sense of time is primarily associated with memory. Pets have a sense of time, but they don’t have the concept of time. Unlike us, our loyal companions don’t know how to read a clock. So telling your fido, I will be back in 30 minutes won’t help it. Dogs can never tell whether you have been out for 10 minutes or 10 hours.

But an interesting fact is that canines can smell the passing of time! Say what?

Experiments have shown that dogs can tell when their owner is about to return, so they patiently wait for them by the window. How do dogs do that without having a sense of time, you ask? Canines use their incredible sense of smell. When their owner’s scent drops to a certain level, they associate the decreased level of scent with their human’s return.

Does a dog have a good memory

2.    Do dogs remember their siblings?

A lot of qualitative research suggests that dog siblings can recognize and remember each other based on scent memories. While dogs don’t particularly feel homesick for their siblings, they can recognize a family member later in life.

Dogs are social animals who like to live in a pack. Their connection to their siblings depends on the duration they have spent with them. If canine siblings have spent the 16-week critical socialization period together, they will definitely recognize each other.

The long-term memories, imprints, smell, and experiences of the socialization period helps them remember their littermates.

3.    Do dogs remember their parents?

Dogs have amazing recognition abilities. Studies suggest that, based on body scent, pups, indeed, can remember their mothers up to 2 years after separation. Research also states that adult canines are able to recognize their close relatives.

4.    Do dogs forget their owners?

Fortunately, the answer is no!

The chances that your dog will never forget you are pretty high. In fact, some studies have shown that the longer you are separated from your dog, the happier your dog will be to meet you again. Dogs actually see their owner’s absence as a loss.

So, if the owner is not around, dogs understand that things are not the same and a certain level of comfort no longer exists.

If you are gone away for a long time, your dog may not be able to recognize you by face, but your scent is enough for your fluffy BFF to recognize you.

Final Thoughts

Without memories, dogs cannot do things like memorizing commands, playing fetch, or bonding with their humans. It is their memory that gives us such a loving bond with them!

Although humans are still researching how exactly a dog’s memory works, how long is a dog’s memory, and how many details they can remember, we know for sure that dogs are perfectly capable of remembering things that are important to them.

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