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Do Dogs Remember People? Just How Good is a Dog’s Memory?

A dog’s memory works differently than a human’s, but they are still able to remember people and other dogs over time as a result of strong associations.

Dogs can get extremely excited to see you when you come home from a long day at work. They will run up to you and show how happy they are that you’re finally home. On walks, your dog may seem to enjoy stopping in familiar spots or where they might meet their dog friends. A dog might lovingly greet its owner after years apart. 

Does your dog remember you or these places? Do dogs have detailed memories of you and their lives? Do dogs remember people? Let’s discuss how a dog’s memory works and how they remember you and your family.

How Does a Dog’s Memory Work?

A dog’s memory doesn’t work exactly like ours. Humans have a wide range of ways to store and recall memories. Episodic memories allow people to recall events throughout their lives. From remembering your 15th birthday to what you had for breakfast, a person’s episodic memory can be extremely detailed. Our episodic memory allows us to recall detailed information from years past.

Dogs don’t rely on episodic memory to live their lives. Research shows that dogs use associative memory to remember places, people, and things. Associative memory is a technique your dog’s brain uses to remember things based on association. Whether it’s smell, sight, or sound, your dog will use its senses to associate things with the people, places, actions, and things it interacts with. 

Associative memory can be effective and allow your dog to remember things for an extended period. These memories can have a positive and negative impact on your pet.

Associative Memory and Your Dog

How do dogs remember people and places? Dogs can create positive and negative associations in their memories. If you always prepare for a walk the same way, your dog will remember this pattern and get excited about the walk. Similarly, you can train your pet by using associative memories to promote desirable habits.

Negative associations can be problematic and cause stress and anxiety for your dog. From going to the vet or an experience with a mean neighbor, your dog will use negative associations to protect themselves. 

Luckily, you can change a dog’s associative memory with training or other techniques. Professional trainers will rely heavily on positive reinforcement of associations to train a dog and alter its behavior.

Changing Your Dog’s Associative Memory

Is your dog afraid of the vet or do they suffer from separation anxiety? Many dog training techniques use your dog’s associative memory to change their behaviors, personality, and memory over time. There are many different dog training techniques available that can remove a negative association for your dog. 

Some of the most popular training techniques include positive reinforcement, clicker training, correction-based training, and mirror training.  With adequate training, you can replace any negative association with a positive association.

Professional dog trainers will use one or a combination of these training techniques to promote desirable behaviors for your dog. Through positive reinforcement and effective training, you can improve your dog’s habits, behaviors, and mental health.  

Do Dogs Use Scent to Remember?

Your dog uses its senses to assess and understand the world. The sense of smell provides extensive information to your dog and it will associate scents to people, places, and things. While dogs also rely on their other senses, their sense of smell provides most of the information for their associative memory.

Dogs can effectively use their sense of smell to identify emotion in people and associate it with their owner’s. Emotions like happiness, excitability, anger, fear, and anxiety can easily be identified through a dog’s sense of smell. Your dog can understand your emotions and may alter its behavior based on the association.

How Good is a Dog’s Memory?

So how good is your dog’s memory? Research shows that dogs do not have extensive short-term memory. Even if you just threw a ball at your dog, they will be more than happy if you throw the ball ten more times. Dogs lack any real long-term, episodic memory and won’t be able to recall specific past experiences in their lives. Instead, they use their associative memory to remember people, places, and things.

Dogs and Short-Term Memory

While dogs may have better short-term memory than many animals, you cannot rely on their short-term memory. Researchers estimate that a dog’s short-term memory lasts up to two minutes. A dog won’t remember how long ago you left a room or if you just gave them a treat ten minutes ago. Don’t get mad if you try to tell your dog no and they forgot the command three minutes later.

Dogs and Long-Term Memory

Dogs don’t use episodic memory to remember long-term. A dog’s long-term memory is based on associations. These associations provide your dog with plenty of information and they can use that info to remember their owner, places, things, and other dogs.

While you might vividly remember bringing your puppy home for the first time, your dog won’t remember the experience or the first time you met. Instead, a dog’s associative memory is used to create long-term memories of you.

What Can a Dog Remember?

Have you ever wondered how good a dog’s memory is? Dogs will use their senses to create associations that allow them to remember people, places, experiences, and things. Your dog may have the ability to know the exact time you will be home or they can recognize their dog buddies at the park. 

Unfortunately, their associative memory doesn’t allow your pet to remember specific instances. Their sense of sight and smell combine to provide detailed memories of their life.

Do Dogs Remember People?

Whether you’ve been gone for a day or a month, your dog does miss and remember you. Your dog will use its sense of smell and sight to recognize you. Their sense of smell is 40 times greater than ours. This allows them to remember scents and smells for years. A dog will also use facial recognition to remember people. 

While not as precise as their sense of smell, a dog can use its sense of sight to discern differences in people. Your pet’s bond with you and its strong senses will help them remember you even after extended absences.

Do Dogs Remember Other Dogs?

Does your dog have friends? Do they remember their parents or siblings? Whether at home or the park, your dog will remember other dogs. A dog’s memory of other dogs can be based on age, sex, and other characteristics. 

A dog will use their sense of sight and smell to identify other dogs. Your dog can use its sense of smell to easily identify another dog. During a meeting, a dog can also determine another dog’s age and sex. They may instantly fall into a hierarchical role during the meeting as well. 

Dogs also can have associative memories of experiences with other dogs. If they play together and have positive experiences, a dog can associate the experience with that specific other dog and remember them.

Just as with humans remembering other people, context plays a role in dog memory. A dog will more easily remember another dog if they encounter them in the same location or circumstances because the associations they have previously made are stronger.

Even if years have passed since a meeting, your dog can often immediately recognize their pals and other dogs.

Do Dogs Remember What They Did Wrong?

While it may seem appropriate to reprimand or punish your dog when they do something wrong, they probably won’t understand you. Due to the lack of short-term memory, a dog will have a difficult time associating the punishment to their actions. 

Next time your dog eats your favorite shoes or goes to the bathroom in your home, refrain from scolding them. The best course of action is to practice positive reinforcement by rewarding positive behaviors instead.

Do Dogs Remember Bad Experiences?

Unfortunately, associative memories can be negative as well. Abuse and mistreatment of a pet can result in anxiety and other behavioral problems. Certain associations can cause cowering, biting, barking, hyperactivity, or aggression.

Dogs can create negative associative memories from raised voices, arm movement, or physical characteristics. A dog with negative associative memories can be a danger to themselves and others. Behavior like biting or damaging property is common in dogs that have had bad experiences.

It’s essential to break these associations and train your dog through positive associations. Whether you bring your dog to a professional trainer or train them yourself, it is critical to provide loving and positive associations to your pet. Take your time and go slowly. In time, your dog can remove the bad associations and live a happy life.

Do Dogs Remember Their Previous Owners?

In the classical epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after 20 years and, even though he is wearing a disguise, his dog Argos, now very old, recognizes him immediately. Although fictional, this scenario isn’t unrealistic.

Because dogs don’t remember chronologically, they are likely to remember their previous owners provided strong associative memories were forged during the period the interacted (very probable). 

We’ve all seen videos of dogs reunited with their owners after long absences (military service, etc.) and their incredible excitement after recognizing them. The dog doesn’t know the circumstances for their owner’s extended absence, so in their eyes, this absent owner could just as well be their “previous” owner. 

Your Dog Does Remember You

Even if your dog doesn’t remember the ride home from the pound or its first days in your home, it will create strong associative memories of you. These positive associations can create strong bonds and memories of you for your pet. 

These memories are the reason your dog is happy to see you when you get home or how they remember other dogs from the neighborhood. Encouraging your dog through positive association and training can help your dog live a long, healthy, and memorable life.

So, yes your dog does remember you. They have a great memory and will associate happy times with you and your family. Treat every experience with your dog as a chance to create positive associations. Your bond will grow and they will love you forever. Now, go make some loving memories with your dog today.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor