Dogs remember much more than you think they do
Dogs are “in.” Hardly a week goes by that a research paper and numerous popular accounts don’t appear in the news. This week is no different. First, on the “down” side, we’ve learned that researchers in some laboratories in the United States often secretively do whatever they want to dogs “in the name of science” in “wasteful, bizarre and deadly experiments” with little to no transparency. Basically, they get away with murder, using taxpayer’s money, and no one does anything about it.
On the “up” side of things, I was so pleased to learn about a study by Claudia Fugazza, Ákos Pogány, and Ádám Miklósi, who work in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, that was just published in Current Biology. This new and very significant essay is titled, “Recall of Others’ Actions after Incidental Encoding Reveals Episodic-like Memory in Dogs.” Needless to say, this study received broad global coverage in mass media. People really do want to know what dogs know. And, here is a video of how the research was conducted.
Their summary of the important research essay that’s available online reads:
The existence of episodic memory in non-human animals is a debated topic that has been investigated using different methodologies that reflect diverse theoretical approaches to its definition. A fundamental feature of episodic memory is recalling after incidental encoding, which can be assessed if the recall test is unexpected . We used a modified version of the “Do as I Do” method , relying on dogs’ ability to imitate human actions, to test whether dogs can rely on episodic memory when recalling others’ actions from the past. Dogs were first trained to imitate human actions on command. Next, they were trained to perform a simple training exercise (lying down), irrespective of the previously demonstrated action. This way, we substituted their expectation to be required to imitate with the expectation to be required to lie down. We then tested whether dogs recalled the demonstrated actions by unexpectedly giving them the command to imitate, instead of lying down. Dogs were tested with a short (1 min) and a long (1 hr) retention interval. They were able to recall the demonstrated actions after both intervals; however, their performance declined more with time compared to conditions in which imitation was expected. These findings show that dogs recall past events as complex as human actions even if they do not expect the memory test, providing evidence for episodic-like memory. Dogs offer an ideal model to study episodic memory in non-human species, and this methodological approach allows investigating memory of complex, context-rich events.
Didn’t we already know dogs had great memories?: A brief interview with Dr. Ádám Miklósi
Many animals spend a lot of time resting, often peering around at their surroundings and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. Dogs surely do this. I often smiled as I watched the dogs with whom I shared my home just hanging out and looking around at their dog and human friends and their environs. When I’ve done field work on a number of different animals, I also noted that they spent a lot of time just hanging out and looking around as they rested. I was convinced that they were picking up a lot of information from just looking around, and that what they learned they could use in their social encounters with others.
In response to this new study I received a number of emails asking something like, “Didn’t we already know that dogs had great memories?” Yes, we did, and a good deal of “citizen science” shows this to be so. But, I wanted to know more, so I sent dog expert Dr. Ádám Miklósi, founder of the Family dog Project…