Skip to comments.Dogs Don't Remember
Posted on 03/02/2015 10:55:47 AM PST by Red Badger
Dogs Don't Remember: Episodic Memory May Distinguish Humans
Dogs are wonderful creatures. Our dogs recognize me and are always happy to see me. Dogs are also smart and successful creatures. Our dogs have learned several cute tricks. But dogs (and other non-human animals) are missing something we take for granted: episodic memory. Dogs don't remember what happened yesterday and don't plan for tomorrow.
In defining episodic memory, Endel Tulving argued that it is unique to humans. Experience influences all animals. Most mammals and birds can build complex sets of knowledge or semantic memory. You and I also remember the experience of learning these complex sets of information. Dogs don't.
Episodic remembering is mental time travel and depends on a few crucial cognitive capabilities. First, in order to experience episodic remembering, an individual must have a sense of self. Most non-human animals have a dramatically different experience of self than we do. For example, most animals (and young humans) fail to identify themselves in mirrors. If I look in a mirror and see that I have something stuck between my teeth, I try to correct the problem. (I also wonder why my friends didn't tell me I had something stuck between my teeth.) In contrast, put a red dot on a child's forehead, put the child in front of a mirror, and watch what happens. Young children are more likely to reach for the baby in the mirror than for their own foreheads. Dogs treat the dog in the mirror as another dog; not as themselves. Most animals fail at the red dot mirror task.
A self concept is not, however, enough to ensure episodic remembering. Mental time travel is the other critical cognitive capability. I understand that yesterday is different from today and that tomorrow will be different as well. We realize that when we remember, the mental experience is a disjointed slice of time. Thus episodic remembering is the combination of a self concept and mental time travel: recollecting the self in that other time period. Mental time travel also enables planning for the future. Dogs don't plan for particular future events although they have a general expectation of when dinner will appear.
Tulving also argued that since episodic memory in a recent evolutionary development, it is particularly likely to suffer damage and loss. Anterograde amnesia is the failure to encode and remember new episodic memories. Anterograde amnesiacs can learn from single experiences without recollecting the experience. They retain a clear sense of self, but they have difficulty with time as personally experienced. Because they lack episodic memory, they can't recall what occurred just before the present moment and constantly feel like they just woke up. If you meet an anterograde amnesiac, leave the room, and return after 10 minutes, you'll remember having met the individual, but the amnesiac won't remember having met you.
My dogs display this particular failure of episodic remembering. If I walk into the backyard, the dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me for days. If I stay in the backyard, they quickly become bored with me. If I go inside and return after 10-15 minutes, my dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me in days. They don't remember that I was in the backyard just a few minutes ago.
Arguing against Tulving's notion that episodic remembering is unique to humans is hard. Showing the impact of a single experience is not enough. Even without episodic memory, humans can show the impact of single events. Anterograde amnesiacs can learn fear, learn new skills, and gain new conceptual knowledge. Normal humans also gain knowledge without remembering when and where they learned the information (see my earlier post on Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before).
Although I appreciate Tulving's conception of episodic memory, I've always been troubled by the difficulty of documenting that other animals have episodic memory. Episodic remembering hinges on the conscious experience of the self in some other time and place. Episodic memory is thus hard to demonstrate without the verbal ability to describe conscious experience.
Nonetheless, in a recent edited volume (The Missing Link in Cognition: Origins of Self Reflective Consciousness, edited by Terrance and Metcalf), several individuals have taken up the challenge. In my next post, I'll present the counter-argument: Dogs don't remember, but maybe chimps do. Since some non-human primates can perform self recognition with mirrors, they may perform episodic remembering. Even if they can't describe their memories, chimps may engage in mental time travel. My dogs, however, are stuck in an eternal present.
Ira E. Hyman, Jr., Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University.
>> Dogs don’t remember what happened yesterday and don’t plan for tomorrow.<<
How DARE you call dogs members of the democratic party!
Neither do a lot of people I know.
Oh yeah? My Jack Scnauzer mix used to remember where he saw all the squirrels. We had to check out those spots every time I walked him.
He also looked upward into the trees to find them.
see which one is happy to see you. —
That would be the bitch.
HA! My dog remembers every place I’ve ever stashed snacks in the last 5 years and every day he makes the circuit checking to see if I might have done so again.
if this is true, how can they be trained?
I have tried to explain this concept to my husband. If we do not catch the little darling in the act, she does not understand.
I was going to say something similar. Plus, I've had dogs that will bury bones & dig them up later and hide their own treats & toys from their pesky feline housemates.
HA! My dog remembers every place Ive ever stashed snacks in the last 5 years and every day he makes the circuit checking to see if I might have done so again.
Yep and if I tell my dog she gets a treat for going outside she heads right to the treat stash after she does her duty...
Isn't burying a bone "planning for tomorrow"?
I think I call BS on them not remembering yesterday - I'm treating our dog for a bit of redeye with an ointment.
She gets a squirt of ointment on the eye, I rub it around, and then she gets a cookie (dog treat). This animal is very food-centric and it's how we've taught her everything - and reward for everything.
So if she can't remember yesterday, why is it she knows she gets a cookie after her medicine when I give her the morning dose?
Different part of the brain is involved.................
Dogs bury bones and then relocate with smell........................
My dog has responded with............."If humans have such a good memory and keen ability to plan for what's ahead, why do they keep making such stupid choices?" = Rose, the red heeler
My mini dachshund remembers ‘her’ favorite people after four years absence and resumes the relationship exactly where it stopped. Quickly brings the same toy she and the human played with the last time they both were present. So I am unconvinced of the above.
I’ve observed some dogs being shocked at their own farts, especially when they are sleeping. Sometimes they even growl and raise their hackles, outraged. My theory is that there is now evidence wafting about of another dog who has been eating the exact same food as them, and they want them to scram.
Maybe it’s just the concept of time. The dog doesn’t think “Oh this happened yesterday”. The dog thinks, “they have the medicine, I get a treat”
Neither do libs.
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