Dogs may have an episodic-like memory after all, reports a recent study conducted by a group of researchers in Budapest, Hungary.
It is a well-known fact that humans are able to recall and remember an incident from the past, but the episodic memory of non-human animals had not been clearly studied until now.
Shared Mental Abilities
Claudia Fugazza, a member of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group that carried out the study on dogs, noted that the findings break down the artificial barriers built between humans and non-human animals.
Though dogs are believed to be more clever than a number of other animal species, people are still surprised when they learn that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities in spite of vast evolutionary differences, Fugazza noted.
Researchers weren't able to find whether or not dogs have episodic memory because it is impossible to ask the animal if it really remembers something. To overcome the issue, the researchers used a training method called "Do As I Do."
Dogs trained in this method watch a person do a particular action, like rolling over, then perform the same action upon being given the command to "Do it!"
'Do As I Do' Experiment In Dogs
Though dogs can be trained to repeat the action efficiently, this skill cannot be considered as an outcome of episodic memory. To be considered that the dogs do have episodic memory, they should be able to repeat a task without being asked or rewarded.
For the episodic memory study, the researchers trained 17 dogs to copy human actions through the "Do as I Do" method. Next step, the dogs were taught to lie down purposefully after the watching an action performed by a person. After the dogs learned to do this, they were suddenly given a "Do It" command without any prior warning.
Surprisingly the dogs were able to imitate the action even though they weren't alerted beforehand to remember and repeat it.
Episodic-Like Memory Exists In Dogs
The dogs were able to recall the action performed by the person and repeat it when they were asked to do so. It is therefore clear that the dogs exhibit episodic-like memory.
The researchers tested the dogs after one minute first, then after an hour. They discovered that the dogs were able to do the actions after both short and long stretches of time. However, their memories declined more with 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," Fugazza said, reported Science Daily.
The study is published in the journal Current Biology on Nov. 23.