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Your Dog’s Memory May Be Much More Exceptional Than Once Thought

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Elephants may get on the glory but a dog’s memory isn’t too shabby either.

A new study found that dogs may exhibit episodic memory, a type of recall associated with specific experiences that can be reconstructed — almost like dogs are mentally able to travel back in time. This type of memory has been studied and demonstrated in humans but difficult to examine in other animals.

“Studying it in non-verbal species is challenging because it is not possible to simply ask them: do you remember what happened this morning?” Claudia Fugazza, the lead researcher at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, says in a statement. “Thus we applied an innovative method that allowed dogs to ‘reply this question’ via their behaviour.”

To show this, her team trained 17 dogs for three different testing situations. First, the pups basically learned a “Follow the Leader” game, where a human would do something, like climbing on top of a chair, and then say “Do it!” The dog would do the same action.

“Dogs trained with this method can imitate their owners’ actions even after a delay of 24 hours,” says Fugazza.”Thus, giving dogs the ‘Do it!’ command after a delay is in a way similar to asking them: Do you remember what your owner did?”

Related: The Reason Why Your Dog Gets Excited Every Time You Open the Door

While this showed that dogs could copy a human and had to remember the person’s actions, it didn’t prove episodic memory. Researches had to show that dogs could remember what a person did, even when not expected to.

So next, the scientists taught the dog to lie down after the person did an action, regardless of what it was.

Then it was time to put everything together to see if dogs indeed had episodic memory. After the dogs mastered the lie down command once a human performed a task, the person would then randomly say “Do it.” And the dogs would imitate what the human had just done, despite thinking their job was to lie down, not remember what the human did.

“From a broad evolutionary perspective, this implies that episodic-like memory is not unique and did not evolve only in primates but is a more widespread skill in the animal kingdom,” Fugazza tells This Dog’s Life.”We suggest that dogs may provide a good model to study the complexity of episodic-like memory in a natural setting, especially because this species has the evolutionary and developmental advantage to live in human social groups.”

Related: 6 Tips on How to Care for Your Senior Dog

The findings were first published Current Biology.

 

By Andrea Huspeni

Andrea Huspeni is the founder and CEO of This Dog's Life. Her mission it to help dogs live a happier, healthier and longer life. When she isn't working, she spends time with her two dogs, Lola and Milo. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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