Friday, November 20, 2015

How Long is a Dog’s Memory?

I was reading an article about “scientific research” on dogs, and I wondered if such “research” was carried out by actual scientists.  The article was about a dog’s memory retention, not the things learned such as ‘fetch,’ ‘roll over,’ and ‘the sound of a can opener.’  It explored whether or not a dog could remember what happened yesterday, or last week, or last year.  The conclusion was “No,” a dog has no memory of events of the past.

I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating.  I was walking Biggie across the street near the taco stand when a lady dropped her taco.  Biggie broke free from me and devoured that taco in just moments.  Since that day Biggie has deliberately taken me to the taco stand almost every time we go for a walk.  He hasn’t forgotten that chance taco nearly three years ago.

Biggie’s groomer was telling me today about her little dog and a forgotten hamburger in the back seat of her car.  She and her mother-in-law had stopped for burgers at a local joint and had purchased an extra to take home for her husband.  They set it in the back seat of the car, drove home, and promptly forgot all about the burger.  The next morning she got back into her car with her dog, which immediately jumped into the back seat.  The dog had never been in the back seat before, nor had it ever shown any inclination to do so.  She turned around to see what was going on just as the dog was swallowing the last bite of the forgotten burger.  Since then, the dog immediately jumps into the back seat upon entering the car.  He didn’t forget.

Not all dog memories are about food.  Over forty years ago a friend gave me his hunting dog Hubie.  My friend had purchased a lime-green and white 1956 Chevrolet Belair two or three days before moving out of town and leaving Hubie with me.  Hubie saw the car only once or twice, but he would always look closely at any 1956 Belair he saw.  If the color wasn’t right, he would quickly turn away, but if the color was correct, Hubie would go in for a closer look.  Hubie remembered. 

Geoffrey was an eight-week-old puppy when he came my way.  I had him less than a year before having to let him go to another owner, but just before his departure, I took him back to visit the people who had given him to me.  He immediately ran over to a corner of their store and tried to push aside a barrel to get behind it.  We moved the barrel and there was a dog toy, which made Geoffrey very happy.  The thing is, Geoffrey was in this store only once for an hour or so on the day I received him.  He had been given this toy on the morning of the day I received him.  His association with this toy and this store were very minimal and had occurred some ten months earlier when he was a puppy.  But he hadn’t forgotten the toy or where he had lost it.

I was discussing hunting dogs with a friend at the fishing club.  (Some fishermen are also hunters.)  He told me one of his dogs couldn’t find a downed bird on a dove hunt, but the next year they returned to the same place, and the dog immediately began to search the field for the missing bird.  It bothered the dog that he had failed to find the missing bird a year earlier.

Anyone with a dog will have at least one similar story.  I believe it is not possible to own a dog and not be aware of the mind of the dog.  Dogs (and in fact all animals) are amazing creatures.  Often I hear the phrase ‘dumb animal,’ but I am convinced all animals possess enough intelligence to survive.  And memory plays an important roll.

Can a dog remember the events of August 22, 2014, or that next Tuesday at 10am he is scheduled to visit the vet?  Probably not.  But I do question if the “scientists” who did the “research” ever owned a dog.