What is a dog’s memory like?

Dog’s memory

Surely on more than one occasion you have wondered how your dog’s memory works, why if you give him a cookie at four o’clock in the afternoon the next day at four o’clock he goes to you to ask for another one, but nevertheless he is unable to memorize that he should not pull the leash.

The memory of dogs is somewhat different from that of humans, they do not use episonic memory as we humans do but they can use other types of memory such as short-term memory, spatial memory or olfactory memory among many others.

Our dogs have an incredible memory, they are able to remember where they buried a bone even if some years have passed. We are going to explain how a dog’s memory works and why they are able to remember some things and not others.

How does our dog’s memory work?

What is a dog's memory like?

Nobody really knows how their memory works for sure, but there are many scientific studies that have been done and based on the results it is suspected that the memory of dogs works in several ways, they use a different memory system than ours, we explain it to you.

Since they are puppies, dogs use a type of memory known as procedural memory, which helps them to learn the things we teach them, how to do their needs outside the house or give their paws when we ask them to.

This type of memory to learn is perfected with repetition, that is why when we train a dog we must always rely on the repetition of the exercise, with a reward when it is done correctly. The dog’s brain does not learn our language, but it quickly learns to get food based on making certain movements when we order it to do so.

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We all know that eating and searching for food is a basic primary instinct in dogs, that is why the use of food to reward a well done exercise is what his brain values the most. In other words, giving our dog a reward when he does something well is the best way for him to memorize.

The procedural memory is strongly engraved in our dogs’ brains, making it almost unconsciously used in the future. A dog will give you his paw to get his treat automatically, without thinking about it, because his brain already knows that by giving the paw he will get food.

This type of memory becomes associative over time, so that the dog will quickly learn everything that has to do with food. Associating food with certain movements is the best way to memorize that they have.

Short-term memory in dogs

What is a dog's memory like?

Dogs have long term memory, they are able to remember the education and training exercises that we taught them when they were puppies. But they also have short-term memory, that is, they can remember what happened a few hours ago.

However, their brain does not work like ours, we are able to relive the moment step by step while they only relive the important part. As an example, if we are walking in the park and we trip over a stone falling to the ground and hurting ourselves….. We can remember that we left home and went for a walk in the park, that it was a beautiful sunny day and that we stumbled by mistake. A dog in the same situation only remembers that falling down hurts.

Dogs have short-term memory but it is very selective, they remember the important things, not the unimportant details as we humans do. However, when it comes to feeding or protecting themselves, their short-term memory can expand indefinitely.

As an example, if the dog meets a human and the human mistreats it, the dog will memorize that the human is bad for a long time. The same happens if an unknown human gives him a cookie, every time he sees him in the street he will look for him to get a cookie again.

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The olfactory memory of dogs

Dogs have an olfactory memory that is simply amazing, their brain is able to associate smells to different places and even to different situations. We must not forget that a dog’s nose is more than a thousand times better than a human’s, its olfactory capacity is unsurpassed.

A dog’s brain makes and memorizes an olfactory map of everything, of his house, of the park where he goes for a walk and even of the areas he visits for the first time and may not visit again for years.

Humans can see with our eyes and create a mental map of our environment to interact with it, dogs in addition to the visual mental map also use an olfactory mental map, able to indicate a lot of details without using their sight.

Has it ever happened to you that your dog meets someone new and growls at him or does not allow himself to be touched by him? It is because possibly that person emits a smell that indicates to the dog something negative, that activates the dog’s associative memory and identifies it with something bad.

Distinctive memory in dogs

What is a dog's memory like?

If there are several people in your household who treat your dog, they are able to remember each other’s details. Dogs have a kind of distinctive memory that allows them to interact differently with each person.

For example, if you take your dog for a walk, you may let him play, sniff everything, chew on the leash or tug. However, if your sister also walks the dog and she has always forbidden them to pull or bite the leash, they will not do it with her.

Dogs know what they can and cannot do with each person, individually. In the same way they know which humans will give them treats and cuddles every time they see them and which ones will not.

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They are able to learn the different habits of each human and adapt to them, something really impressive. A dog’s memory is designed for survival, so that searching for food or avoiding dangers is always what it retains best, in any of its variables.

How to improve a dog’s memory

The best way to improve a dog’s memory is through stimulation, training exercises, improving his education, etc… If we make our dog use his memory on a daily basis, it will improve progressively over time.

Studies reveal that a dog’s memory capacity is directly related to its intelligence, that is why when tests are carried out to know which are the most intelligent dog breeds in the world, practical memory exercises are always included.

There are also didactic games for dogs that stimulate their memory, they are simple games that can be found in any store specialized in dogs. This kind of games can be used since they are puppies and they really help.

We must keep in mind that older dogs do not have the same memory as young dogs, when a dog enters the “senior” stage or what is the same, when he is already a grandpa, his memory has to worsen, it is something completely normal.


Not all dogs have the same memory capacity, but we can work and stimulate this capacity through games and training. Using food as a reward is the best option for his brain to learn faster.

There are no dogs without memory, there are simply dogs with little capacity to memorize for genetic reasons or because they have not been stimulated.

Remember that a dog can memorize for all his life that you once hit him, that is why you should never mistreat a dog, because it will cost you a long, long time for your dog to change that fragment of memory. Always use positive reinforcement to educate your dog and he will always have good memories of you.