Home > Dog Behavior, Pet News, Pet Ponderings > Dogs and memory: Are they more like humans than we thought?

Dogs and memory: Are they more like humans than we thought?


Woman with Her Pet DogThis recent story, “Dogs Remember as Well as Humans”, caught my eye as I was perusing the internet the other day.

A recent study out of Hungary has found that our dog’s memory may be just as good as ours. Go figure!

Researchers tested eight adult dogs for their ability to imitate humans, in this case their owners, and their ability to remember the imitated behavior 10 minutes later. In this case, owners walked around a bucket and rang a bell and their dogs were tested to see if they could imitate them, then be distracted with plan and other activities, and come back to try it again.

What they found was that similar to humans, dogs have something called declarative memory.

“Declarative memory (“knowing what”) is memory of facts and events, and refers to those memories that can be consciously recalled. It is sometimes called explicit memory, since it consists of information that is explicitly stored and retrieved…”

They not only could imitate their owners, but they could remember that behavior later and repeat it. It’s quite an interesting revelation.

Of course , I couldn’t help but think about one very famous dog who demonstrated both of these capabilities – Skidboot.

Do you remember Skidboot? He was the dog who could do an amazing number of tricks just by watching his owner do it first. He appeared on Oprah and other entertainment shows throughout the 90’s. Even though he passed in 2007, I still remember being amazed by his ability to comprehend what his owner asked of him. I have included a couple of videos on Skidboot below.

It makes me wonder if anyone else has noticed this type of behavior in their own dogs. Have you ever had your dog learn from imitating you? And if so, have they come back later and repeated it?

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  1. July 25, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    I can’t believe you got me sucked into watching a half hour of video. But I loved meeting David and Skidboot. I guess I’ve missed out on a lot by not watching Oprah and the Tonight Show.

    I especially loved the way they described David Hartwig as Skidboot’s friend instead of his owner.

    I’ll be pondering dog and memory all day now. I don’t quite understand the Hungarian experiment. But I’m astounded to see what scientists are discovering about dogs.

    I haven’t tried mirroring with Honey. But I’ve seen Hungarian trainers doing it. I’ve had trouble teaching Honey to roll over with my clicker. But maybe I need to start rolling over to show her how.

  2. July 25, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    That dog is amazing! 😀

  3. July 25, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Skidboot really was amazing, wasn’t he? When we talk about memory, I can understand that dogs memorize recent behavior, but do they have historical memory? Does Gizmo remember the home that abandoned him at the shelter? I guess we’ll never know, but it’s an interesting question

    • July 25, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      I don’t know if we’re reaching or not but I thought I saw signs that my last dog, Shadow, was looking for her previous family. She was 8 years old when they took her to our local, no-kill shelter from many miles away. Their doctor advised that the family member getting a kidney transplant would face more likelihood of infection with a dog in the house.

      Anyway, Shadow would perk up and look very alert whenever a young black man walked by us on the street. She was normally very mellow. This was the only time she got waggy and happy in her manner.

      I started to wonder if her first family was African American and she was looking for someone she really loved and missed.

      I’ll never know. But if a researcher told me they had proof that dogs remembered and looked for people from their pasts, I’d believe it.

      • Mel
        July 27, 2013 at 10:16 PM

        I bet she was raised with an Afican American family. I used to walk dogs who would look at every car that looked like their owner’s car. Always amazed me.

    • Mel
      July 27, 2013 at 10:20 PM

      I loved Skidboot. I hope Gizmo doesn’t, but I would not be surprised. I was mentioning to someone else that dogs who boarded with me would remember my street and get excited as soon as their owners would turn onto it. They knew they were coming here to stay with me.

  4. July 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I loved watching him perform. He had so much will power not to eat the cookie.

  5. July 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    It amazes me every time we go somewhere the dogs have been before and they remember it. They know the roads to my moms house, and they remembered a whole year later our camp spot here in Jackson.

    • Mel
      July 27, 2013 at 10:17 PM

      Isn’t it funny? I used to laugh when former clients would tell me that their dog would get excited as soon as they turned down my street because they knew they were coming to stay at Casa del Me. 🙂

      I think your dogs are smart.

  6. July 25, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    I don’t know if she copies me, but Hailey has the most amazing memory – it is actually too good!

    • Mel
      July 26, 2013 at 6:59 AM

      Mine too! I was just thinking about Jasper remembering “crawl” even though we haven’t practiced it in a few months. He has an amazing memory too.

    • Mel
      July 27, 2013 at 10:19 PM

      LOL! You mean she’s too smart for her own good?

  7. victorialynncarter
    July 26, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    I’m in total agreement with this article about dog memory. I know from experience with my pups that they have it.

    Chloe our youngest dog, (a one year old German Shepherd mix) knows where we hide frisbees. If she can’t find one in the yard she will go up to the house and look at the gutter (its pretty low, only about six feet up so I can reach it but dogs cant, and where we occasionally store frisbees when we want to save them from her boredom chewing) then look at us. She’ll try to climb up whatever we have closest to the gutter, a chair or the outdoor fireplace (covered and not in use of course) if we refuse to get it for her.

    She also remembers where she ‘lost’ a toy in the house and will start trying to dig it out from under the couch or entertainment center days after the toy was ‘lost’.

    Another instance is while playing frisbee, she may get distracted by the other pups running laps in the yard, but when they stop she will run back to where she left the frisbee and pick up where our frisbee game left off. I actually have a video of her doing just that.

    • Mel
      July 27, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      Wow! She is one smart dog! Love GSD mixes. One of my dogs was a Collie/Shep mix. Loved her dearly.

  8. July 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    My standard poodle was really amazing, but she had a sense of humor too. We used to walk her every day in a large open area and on the way back we had to turn the corner around a small brick building. One day I hid around the corner as she followed behind, then I jumped out at her to surprise her. She was totally surprised. Some days later we were following her and she turned the corner before us. When we came around the corner, she jumped out at us to scare us! Pretty funny!

    • Mel
      July 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      LOL! That’s hilarious Catherine! Dogs are so funny sometimes. Now that is a dog with a sense of humor!

      • July 29, 2013 at 12:33 PM

        Thanks, Mel! she was pretty fun.

  1. July 31, 2013 at 8:17 PM

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