how long is a dogs memory

How Long is a Dog’s Memory? Questions Answered

When it comes to dogs’ memory, we need to keep in mind that they have both long and short-term memory.

Short-term memory in humans is shorter than most people know and it’s the same with several other animals. The part of the brain that stores short-term memory can only handle about seven items at a time and only hold those memories for a couple of seconds.

Research suggests that dogs, as well as humans, have an average short-term memory span of about 27 seconds.

Experiments carried out by behavioral scientists suggest that dogs, (and many other animals except humans), cannot recall much (or nothing at all) about specific events.

In other words, they can’t mentally go back and forth in time as humans do and do not possess episodic memory (the ability to retain a memory of different events over long periods).

Like humans, associative memory in our pups helps them remember things for a long period. Dogs easily associate an occurrence or event with what they smell, hear, or see at the time.

For instance, if you pick up the coat or boots you always wear for walks with your dog, your pup will likely become frantic to accompany you because he is already familiar with that event.

How long is a dog's long term memory?
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What Makes Dogs Remember Events?

Dogs are much more well attuned to every little thing that their owners do. Many owners are often not aware of just how well their dogs notice nuances about their behavior.  

However, if your dog has nothing to associate with; something like a regular event you often do with him, he’ll readily forget the event. That’s why it’s unfair to punish a dog that has damaged things in the house while left alone because he’ll have no idea why he’s being punished.

Relating to long-term memory, there are tons of anecdotal evidence of dogs making long journeys to return to their previous home/owner. They’re usually over the moon to see a human family member or a long-lost sibling.  

That said, more studies need to be done to establish more facts about how long-term memory works in dogs. The debate is still out as to whether dogs have a form of episodic memory or whether their long-term memory is connected to associative memories, such as smell or sound.

While we do not fully understand how dog’s brains work in terms of memory; they certainly have a very real way of leaving wonderful, lasting memories for those around them.

Therefore, they’re various ways we can understand how our dog memory works. We can measure this by understanding how their brain actually works. Let’s check it out.

How Does a Dog’s Memory Work?

Most dogs can remember the animals that they’ve lived with for a long period. They also remember other pets who come over for outings and playdates. And they get excited when they return to the same location or to their house to play with them again.

What they remember is the smell – not necessarily the look.

They can also remember events if it’s related to some experience that is either exciting or traumatizing. So, if a dog has had an awesome experience with a particular person or in a specific place, he’s likely not to ever forget that place.

Simply put, a dog’s memory works only as good as the memory is useful to him. For instance, a pup that has had to search for food on the street in the past to survive can see a stranger throw a cheeseburger into a bin, and then immediately go for the cheeseburger.

Memories a dog can remember mostly relate to training, discipline, and treats you give him. Your dog can recall that you gave him a treat when he sat down. So he’ll sit anytime you bring out a treat.

How dogs’ memories work is influenced by the people, surroundings, and animals around them for the majority of their life. Nevertheless, dogs’ memories can be grouped into specialized memories, short and long-term memories.

Short-term Memory of Dogs

Dogs have short-term memory storage that allows them to remember events and nuances for the briefest moments. These short-term memories are what allows your doggie to sit and stay while he waits for a treat.

But they often forget useless information, especially things that do not promote their survival ability. Food and safety do promote their survival, so anything that directly relates to that is often remembered.

In shorter words, our dogs do not keep information that does not benefit them.

A dog’s short-term memory span is for non-vital information and it lasts for roughly less than two minutes. This explains why our pooch gets excited each time you walk into the room and why they also act crazy whenever we throw a ball.

You could walk in and out every five minutes and your doggie will waggle and dance like he’s just seeing you for the first time. Well, except your dog is a cat in dog’s coating.

Your pup will recall that parks offer sustenance and enough playing. But he’s unlikely to remember when you tripped while trying to chase him.

Long-term Memory of Dogs
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Long-term Memory of Dogs

Unlike us, dogs cannot remember specific events from past experiences by mentally looking backward and retrieving information. They don’t get flashbacks

To understand episodic memory, you’ll need to think back to an occurrence in your life that made your soul soar or made you feel awful.

When you do, you are instantly filled with every single thing you felt that day. Episodic memory seems to be an ability only humans over four years old seem to possess.

Dogs have been carefully tested and they do seem to have episodic-like memory. But the success rate reduces with each passing second.

While researchers have made great progress investigating this memory in primates, rodents, and birds, research with dogs has not been prevalent.

Specialized Memory in Dogs

Animals possess an instinct to survive in the wild and it always sticks with them irrespective of where they were born or raised.

A huge part of that instinct is gotten from their semantic memory – or general knowledge of the world around them. It allows their pack to evolve and grow in the wild.

Their semantic memory them alive and able to survive in almost any situation they find themselves in. It leads them to find a partner for mating, directs and guides their behavior toward predators, and reminds them to find and store food. It also reminds them to bed down for the winter, fly south, and so much more.

Their specialized memory is better understood as knowing rather than remembering.

Dogs’ specialized memory bank allows them to recall when and where food and water are available; especially if they are being fed at the same time and place every day.

These are simply the actions of a creature of habit, not exactly memory.

Can Dogs Remember Previous Owners?

It’s a known fact that pups who have been previously abused by their previous owners often display aggression or fearful reactions towards people with similar traits or characteristics.

For instance, if a dog was previously abused by a man with beards or a woman with short hair; he might easily get triggered when approached by someone with similar characteristics, depending on how much emotions are attached to the past owner.

Patricia McConnell, PhD., an applied animal behaviorist, has researched dog memories and has documented various separate events where a dog was reunited with a past owner after being rehomed. She confirms that she’s certain that dogs remembered their previous owners. Even though they happily went back to their new family at the end of the visit.

How Long Does It Take for a Dog to Forget a Person?
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How Long Does It Take for a Dog to Forget a Person?

There are numerous viral videos online where dogs run over to their owners who have been away for years. It’s totally normal for dogs to remember their owners even after a long time; especially if they’ve had years of experience with their owners.

So, you don’t have to be bothered that you’ll have to leave your beloved pup for a while for whatever reason since you can be certain as soon as you return, he’ll receive you with the same love as always – maybe more!

On the other hand, if you have to part ways with your dog because you have to give him up for adoption, there’s no need to be anxious that your departure will prevent him from becoming fond of his new owner. Dogs never forget their previous owners; but they also fall in love easily with a new owner that shows them love and care.

How Long do Dogs Remember Your Scent?

Do dogs forget scent? How long do they remember for? Forever!

Dogs never forget scent because that’s their strongest sense of recognition, not looks.

A dog can remember someone’s scent for his entire life. Especially if the relationship with such person was intimate or otherwise.

The relationship stays forever in the dog’s brain. What is remembered is how that person made the dog feel, so that feeling is linked and triggered by the person’s smell. A dog can remember any specific event associated with any specific voice, gesture, movement, or smell with the feeling.

One of the biggest examples of a dog’s memory of smell can be when you return home after a long time, and your dog recognizes you from afar by your smell.

As earlier mentioned, there are several cases where a person is lovingly greeted by their dogs even after they’ve been away for years.

This is the perfect instance of how dogs can recall a person’s voice, movement, and scent associated with their emotions with him. That’s probably the reason, dogs are dubbed man’s true best friend.

Moreover, this is backed by evidence and science. According to a report, dogs possess over 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose whereas we only have 6 million.

Additionally, a part of dogs’ brain is totally devoted to analyzing smell which is over 40 times greater than a human’s ability to smell.

So, since dogs have advanced olfactory memory, they can recall the scent when they are often exposed to you. Even if your face changes for any reason, your dog will be able to tell who you are by your scent alone.

How Long Will Your Dog Remember Another Dog?

There is no solid evidence to prove a particular duration for a dog to remember another dog. However, dogs are generally easy-going and happy creatures.

They can meet several other dogs while walking in the park or just strolling with their owner.

But dogs will not recall everyone until they stop by and give each other a good sniff.

Since dogs have a better sense of smell than humans, they use it to identify each other. Once they sniff each other and spend some time playing around each other, they will remember themselves even if they meet after a long time.

You will often see them jump or react excited and happy after sniffing each other after several weeks. That is because they can identify themselves.

That said, it doesn’t mean they remember everything that they did together. But their scent will help them to identify that they know themselves. It also tells them what their previous encounter was like.

Most of the time, remembering other dogs depends on how long they spent together in the past and what the experience was like. Two dogs that met last week can growl at each other next week.

How far back do dogs memories go?
Photo by Reuben Mcfeeters on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

So, you know that you can tell everything about how a dog’s memory work and its span, it is essential to remember that everything depends on smell.

With the strong sense of smell, it becomes quite easier for dogs to recall a person with who they are associated.

It can be of any emotion. But dogs have short-term memory when it comes to some particular incidents or events. Irrespective, dogs are loving and loyal creatures even if they don’t often remember everyone.

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