When you think back to the very first time you met your sweet pup you probably re-live that entire day from the very first hug to showing her the new dog bed you got for her to that part in the middle of the night where you gave up and let her join you in your own bed.
But does your furball buddy remember that day?
Dogs mostly use two different forms of memory: short term memory and long term (associative) memory. Dogs have incredibly limited short term memory compared to humans – just a measly 70 seconds before they’ll forget you gave them that treat!
That’s also why your pooch reliably loses their little doggie minds with joy when you come back after taking the trash out. For them it’s impossible to tell if you were gone for 5 minutes or for hours!
But thankfully your dog isn’t living life as Leonard from Memento because he also has associative memory to assist.
Associative memory is when your dog associates a sound, smell or visual cue with a known behavior or emotion. For instance your canine may associate keys jingling in your pocket with a familiar behavior of you leaving and may start to whine as you get ready to leave.
Or when you open a bag of snacks- your dog has associated that crinkle of the bag with getting treats and may tear into the kitchen with excitement remembering that the sound is often a sign of impending treats.
This is also the reason why you can’t punish your dog hours later for peeing on the carpet – they can’t associate your anger with the act of peeing on the carpet because it happened too long ago to remember- they will likely become very confused and may start to fear you. Dog experts agree that correcting bad doggie behaviors only work if you catch her in the act of desecrating your grandma’s quilt or stealing your new pincushion.
Researchers are still uncovering the mysteries of dog memory. For instance, how can some dogs manage to find their way home after being lost for long periods of time?
And yet how does my own dog manage to forget where she hid her treats inside our tiny apartment?
Recently it was discovered that dogs also use “declarative memory” which are memories that can be consciously recalled like facts (such as which areas in the park have the most squirrel sightings) or knowledge that the word “vet’s office” means they are minutes away from having a thermometer greet their rectum.
In fact, dogs can remember hundreds of words! A border collie named Chaser has been dazzling researchers with her knowledge of over 1,000 different words! That’s more words than a human toddler knows!
But before you start ordering bumper stickers stating “My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student” you should know that dogs still have trouble with traveling forward and backward in time with memory. To dogs, it’s hard to tell what just happened and what happened a long time ago. Truly, time is a flat circle to both Matthew McConaughey and your pup.
So, while your dog may not remember the specific day you met, they will remember your face, smell and the thousands of positive feelings associated with you and will continue to do so for the rest of their life.