Dogs are often known for their loyalty, intelligence and maybe even their short attention spans. But a new study published in Current Biology found that a dog’s memory may be better and more complex than we previously thought.
It turns out dogs and humans share similar mental abilities when it comes to recalling episodic memory – just not to the same extent.
“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,” says Claudia Fugazza of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, in an e-mailed statement to NBC News. “The result of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erect barriers between non-human animals and humans.”
To figure this out, scientists had to come up with a clever way to test their theory, since it wasn’t possible to ask the dogs if they really remembered something.
The researchers say that although dogs can be trained to repeat tricks on command, this action cannot be considered as a result of episodic memory. In order for it to be considered as such, they would have to repeat the action without command or rewards.
Using 17 dogs, scientists tried the “Do as I Do” method. The dogs were taught to lie down after watching a human perform the same thing. After learning the action, they were given a “do it” command without warning.
It turns out the dogs were able to imitate the human action even though they were not alerted beforehand to remember and repeat it, and would continue to repeat it on command Tech Times reports.
Researchers tested the dogs after a minute and then again after an hour and found the dogs were able to remember the actions after both short- and long-term time periods. The only thing was each dog’s memories declined as more time went by.
This, researchers say, shows that dogs have an episodic-like memory.
Watch a video of the experiment below:
One thing the study did not mention was the breeds of dog that were used in the experiment. It’s not certain that all 17 dogs in the experiment were the same breed featured in the video above.
What’s more, not all dog breeds are created equal on the intelligence scale.
According to Stanly Coren, a psychology professor studying the human-animal bond at the University of British Columbia, some dogs are smarter than others.
Coren lists the top 10 smartest dog breeds (in terms of working and obedience intelligence) in Psychology Today as:
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
He lists the bottom 10 breeds as:
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Afghan Hound
Other great animal memories
Not to stir the “dogs are better than cats” debate (or vice-versa), but cats are known to have good long-term memories.
According to PetMD, the structure of a cat’s brain is about 90 per cent similar to humans.
Cats also have the ability store both long-term and short-term memories and have made it possible to learn how to open doors, for example, says PetMD.
A 2007 study out of the University of Alberta, however, believes that a cat’s short-term memory lasts about 10 minutes. But for cats, doing something (rather than observing something being done) is key for kittens to retain the information on a long-term basis, The New York Times says.
And ever hear of the saying, “An elephant never forgets?”
As it turns out, it’s not just a saying, but a saying with scientific backing with several studies over the years proving that elephants have amazing memory recall capabilities.
One study from the University of Sussex in England concluded that older elephants are the best at making life or death decisions about predators because their memory can recall previous related experiences, as reported by Scientific American.
But the best memories in the animal kingdom belong to bottlenose dolphins.
According to National Geographic, bottlenose dolphins are able to remember the whistles of other dolphins they haven’t seen in after 20 years of separation.