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How Long is a Dog’s Memory?

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A dog may retain the training she’s received all her life, she will also retain fears imprinted from puppyhood, but can’t seem to remember that chewing up an expensive piece of footwear is a huge no-no. A dog’s memory span may be broken up into short and long term memory. However, a human’s version of memory and a dog’s version of memory are two very different things. Just how long is a dog’s memory?

Memory vs. Imprint

Humans retain memories; vivid images of both positive and negative occurrences that (hopefully) were learning experiences of what to do and what not to do, ever again! Studies suggest that although dogs don’t have images and memories, they have imprints of occurrences. A young dog tentatively comes towards a huge object in the middle of the room. Sniffs at it to explore its strangeness, suddenly it comes to life with a horrendously loud noise. The dog flees in panic. From that moment on, that dog will be afraid of the vacuum. There won’t be a memory, but an imprint of fear associated with the loud, strange object.

shutterstock_151383395Negative Imprints

Dogs live very much in the now. So much so that behavior needs to be addressed while it is happening. Seeing what a dog has done after the fact and scolding her only breeds stress in the dog. She would have no idea why the human is angry.

Extremely common misconception during housebreaking; rubbing the dog’s nose in their urine will teach them not to go inside the house. Not true. Since the dog’s memory has no recall of actually urinating in the house, rubbing the dog’s nose in it is counterproductive. It will only create fear in the dog, fear of the owner.

Perfect example is that scene in “A Christmas Story”, the boy blamed his best friend for the bad word, his mother made a phone call, and the best friend’s mother began beating the other boy while he screamed “What’d I do Ma?” Punishing a dog after the fact is the same as that scene. The dog is really just wondering what she did.

Memory Retention

Would a dog remember a former owner, years after she had been relinquished? Probably. Not by sight or sound but by smell. It’s no secret dog’s have an amazing sense of smell. That is how they ascertain whether another living being is worth their time. Smells have associations or imprints attached to them. If a former owner found their dog, the dog would remember their scent. Feelings associated with that scent, whether good or bad would be linked to the human.

Would a dog remember its owner after a week being boarded at a kennel? Absolutely! While dogs tend to go with more of an imprint than a memory, they won’t forget what their person looks like or sounds like in a week.

A dog’s “memory” imprint runs long and deep, but they also have a crazy way of leaving a lasting imprint on the hearts of their humans.

Written by Renee Moen
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