Does Canine Memory Work Like Human Memory?

New research out of Hungary suggests that while you may not always be able to teach an old dog new tricks, you might be able to teach all dogs human tricks.

No, really, this new study reveals that the canine memory mechanism is very similar to that of humans. Of course, they are not exactly the same, but they are surprisingly similar in remarkable ways.

For the most part, actually, humans have episodic memories; and it turns out so do dogs, though it is not exactly the same.

In the study researchers from the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, in Budapest, Hungary argue that dogs can, in fact, “remember and recall events from the past, even when those events didn’t hold any particular importance at the time they occurred.”

Study author Claudia Fugazza comments, “The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans. Dogs are among the few species that people consider ‘clever,’ and yet we are still surprised whenever a study reveals that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities despite our distant evolutionary relationship.”

Fugazza is also an ethologist with the University of Eotvos Lorand, in Budapest. She makes sure to note that although the study could not necessarily theorize what the dogs were thinking, specifically, they found evidence of behavior that seems to indicate what the animals anticipated based on commands and circumstances, implying memory recall.

Of course, testing a dog’s memory is not as easy as testing human memory because we don’t speak the same language. However, researchers said they employed a “do as I do” trick that, basically, exhibited an action for the dog—something simple like jumping—and then commanded the canine subject to copy it with “do it.” Another group of dogs was trained to lie down regardless of what action the human exhibited.

According to the news release regarding the study, “The dogs recalled what they’d seen the person do even though they had no particular reason to think they’d need to remember. They showed episodic-like memory.” More importantly, perhaps, memory retention seemed similar to humans, too, in that the memories would last, over time, but eventually fade.

The study has been published in the journal Current Biology