For all of you dog owners out there that have done many unspeakable embarrassing things in front of your dog, (i.e. danced naked, had weird sex, hysterically cried during the Bachelor) brace yourself, your dog probably remembers all of it.
New research from the Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary finds that dogs have a much greater memory than previously assumed. Their research will help us better understand the intelligence levels of non-human animals.
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We all know dogs can remember commands, phrases, names, people and even places but this study suggests dogs have a much more complex memory than ever imagined. Similar to how humans will claim to have a “photographic memory”, dogs are also able to tap into an episode, “photographic” memory with the proper training. That’s where Dr. Claudia Fugazza, Adam Miklosi and Akos Pagony come in. This team of experts developed a technique called “Do-as-I Do Training.”
In this training, dogs learn how to imitate human actions on command. “They test whether dogs can rely on episodic memory when recalling others actions from the past”, said Fugazza. Basically they are teaching the dogs to copy the human action in the room.
For example, the trainer would do an action like touch their head, then the trainer would say the command, “Do it,” and then the dog would copy that motion by touching its own head with its paw.
Dr. Fugazza studied the dogs that successfully learned the “Do-As-I-Do” training. She then added another, more advanced type of training for the successful dogs. They then taught the dogs to lie down on a mat as a response to a new action by the trainer.
“If the dog expects that it will be required to imitate the move later, then it will rely on its semantic memory and won’t need to mentally travel back in time to recall the demonstration,” said Fugazza.
After this exercise, Dr. Fugazza added one final step for the dogs that were successful in round 1 and round 2. After a trainer did a new movement the dog had never seen before, they removed the dog from the room.
Within minutes the trainers brought the dog back into the room and said the command, “Do it”. The successful dogs in the experiment followed the command and performed the action the trainer had done prior to the dog being removed from the room, all from memory.
“This is a step towards bringing down the artificially erected barriers between humans and other animals,” Fugazza disputes. In essence, dogs have a much greater awareness of our shared world than any of us truly understood. “Episodic memory is linked to self-awareness and at present it is not known if dogs are self-aware or not. I think we might be a little step closer to being able to answer those questions.”