There has been a lot of debate over the years about just how much dogs remember but recent scientific research is beginning to provide surprising answers.
Memory of specific events
Dogs can be trained to react to a command, but it's been thought only humans are able to actually recall in detail things that happened in the past and not just when warned that they need to remember something - this is because only humans are thought to be self-aware and therefore realize things are happening to them or are done by them. For example, you can recall what you had for dinner last night it sticks in your #memory even though you weren’t told in advance to remember as, for example, when you are given a new task at work and you learn it because you are told you need to remember it so does your #Dog remember what you or he did last night?
Do as I do
The November 23 issue of “Science” reports on research into what is termed episodic memory where dogs imitate their master (or mistress) which could explain why after seeing you digging in the garden they will copy your action and head for China - it isn’t always an attempt to bury a bone or dig up something they hear underground such as a mole. Canine cognition scientists say that often the dog is often imitating their owner. As a memory test, the "do as I do” trick where a dog is commanded “do as I do” and taught to watch the owner do something and on the second command “to it!” they repeat the owner’s action was tested.
Until 2006 this ability to copy another’s action was seen only in humans and apes but now dogs are known to be able to repeat an action up to 10 minutes after they have seen it done by their master - when told to do so! But what about remembering something at random they had not been told to learn?
In recent memory tests 17 dog owners taught their pets the “do as I do” trick and then told “do it!”. The critical point is that this is a learned trick where the canine is taught to watch and later imitate actions which follow the “do as I do” command. They remembered because they had been told to remember.
This test demonstrates one kind of memory - the ability to follow a command. Another kind of animal memory is demonstrated by birds who hide food and can later find in in the Winter - the question remained whether dogs have a personal event memory they hadn't were instructed to remember or connected with survival such as locating stashed food? For example, the Western scrub-jay hides food to eat later, steals other birds stored food, and conceals their own stashing behavior to keep their food location secret as well as remembering where they had hidden their own food (reported in “Science” magazine, June 16, 2003).
Canine episodic memory
To see if dogs have the sort of episodic memory which humans have - that is, they remember actual situations, not just remember on command, owners had their dogs lie down after the owner did something - in this case, touch an open umbrella or climbing on a chair but this time the action wasn’t preceded by the “do as I do” command so the animal wasn’t on notice to observe and remember the action.
After a wait between a minute and an hour the owner touched the umbrella or stood on the chair again when the dog was already lying down. In 33 of 35 trials, the dog remembered what the owner had done before it was told to lay down and responded to the “do it” command by doing what the owner had done without the previous "do as I do" command.
The important fact is that the dog remembered what his master had done even though the dog had not been commanded to remember and imitate the action. This demonstrates a kind of memory which animals were not thought to possess. For dog owners, this means that their best friend is remembering, and sometimes forgiving, our actions in a much more complex way than merely imitating or learning from repetition and reward.