Dogs, like humans, have a complex episodic memory and are able to recall things even when they don’t expect their memory to be tested.
The findings, carried out by researchers at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary, provides further evidence to help “break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans”, according to Claudia Fugazza, who led the project.
Proving that animals have episodic memory is no easy task, mainly because you can’t ask them if they remember something or not. To get around this, Fugazza and her colleagues devised a training regime to test if dogs have an episodic memory or not.
A group of 17 dogs were trained using the “do as I do” method. The dogs watched a human action, for example someone jumping into the air, and were then commanded to “do it”, at which point the dog would jump in the air too. But to prove that dogs have an episodic memory, the researchers had to do some extra training.
First, they trained the dogs to lie down after watching a human action, regardless of what it was. Once the dogs had been trained to lie down reliably, they were “surprised” by the command “do it”. Rather than lie down, the dogs jumped up.
The results demonstrated that dogs were able to recall complex actions after both short and long time intervals, though their ability to remember faded over time.
“From a broad evolutionary perspective, this implies that episodic-like memory is not unique and did not evolve only in primates but is a more widespread skill in the animal kingdom,” said Fugazza.