Dog owners often wonder what goes on in their dog’s mind and the answer turns out to be more complicated than one might imagine.
A recent study from the Budapest-based Comparative Ethology Research Group (MTA ELTE) has been completed and suggests that your dog may well remember the past in a similar way to yourself. In fact, they may be more self-aware than we have previously thought.
The study indicated that a dog will draw upon “episodic memory”, which is the form of memory we use to recall personal events. What this means is that dogs can also recall these experiences. While these events may not have been particularly memorable for the dog at the time, they can associate emotions to places, people and events.
In order for episodic memory to function there must be an ability to view oneself as an entity, separate and individual from others, ie, you need to have an awareness of self. This has never been studied in dogs before. Semantic memory, by contrast, is the set of rules, facts and behaviours one needs to follow to survive. These are learnt by dogs in puppy-hood.
The Bulgarian study has been published in Current Biology, and reports on 17 dogs which they trained to copy an action performed by a human in a “do as I do” manner. The dogs were expected to recall the test at random times. Their ability to do this suggests that the dogs had formed episodic memories.
The study states that the method used allowed the team to use a variety of contexts and events to investigate memory in a non-human species, a task for which dogs provided to be ideal.
The findings indicated that even when they were not expecting their memory to be tested, the dogs do recall complex past events.
There have been other episodic memory tests in non-humans which have suggested that rats, pigeons and primates also form episodic memory. However, in these cases the simple stimuli were not conducted in a real-life scenario. This latest study therefore provides significant information on episodic memory in non-humans.