Stay on target
Remember that time you stepped on your dog’s tail on accident? Unfortunately, she remembers too. In fact, a new study recently published in Current Biology states that dogs can actually recall events that happened in the past even when they didn’t hold any meaning at that time. So basically, every time you didn’t give Fido a handout from your plate or accidentally scolded him? Yeah, he can remember that.
That kind of information retention is likely a part of “episodic memory,” or the ability that humans have to look back in time to recall certain events and experiences in the mind. Previous knowledge had shown dogs and cats do have something known as semantic memory, which is essentially a set of memories for survival, but this study was meant to test episodic memory, and involved a trick called “Do as I Do.”
Essentially, 17 dogs were trained to watch someone perform an action such as putting their hand on an umbrella and then instructing the dog to do the same thing, or sit on a chair, jump over something, etc. The dogs would perform the same action when asked to recall them after being asked to lie down after watching humans perform actions. When asked to recall the actions they had seen, the dogs obviously had to rely on episodic memory to do so.
Episodic memory, researchers explain, is linked to self-awareness, or the ability to see oneself as a separate entity from others. It’s something humans possess (usually, anyway, if you’ve met certain people) and thus far there hasn’t been a specific test that’s been successfully applied to study the trait in dogs. That’s why this study itself has been so important.
So the next time you skimp out on treats or accidentally knock your pupper into the floor, make sure you’re still apologizing profusely. You never know what they’re going to retain, and you should be treating them right anyway!