Study: Your Dog Literally Has No Short-Term Memory

Think your dog remembers when you threw that Frisbee three minutes ago? Think again.

Michael Leaverton  |  Mar 2nd 2015


You spend your life loving, laughing, and engaging in wonderful activities with your dog. Too bad your dog doesn’t remember any of it.

Wait, let us clarify: He remembers it — for about a minute. At two minutes, he’s forgotten it. Unless it’s an event that has to do with food or fear, the memory is gone, zapped, cleared from the doggy record, according to a new study, which seems like an arrow pointed at our heart.

Thanks, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University, Sweden.

Of course, with studies like this, the important thing to realize is that you can just ignore the results, figuring they’ll change in a year or so. Like you did with eggs and meat. But, in the interest of reporting the news, let’s have at it:

“A recent investigation of short-term memory suggests animals don’t remember specific events much at all,” announces National Geographic. “Instead, they store away useful information about what could help them survive.”

“Covering 25 species that ranged from dolphins to bees, the study found the average short-term memory span of animals was 27 seconds …”

Good Lord. How did this animal kingdom ever get off the ground?

“Dogs forget an event within two minutes,” continues the article, cruelly. “Chimpanzees, at around 20 seconds, are worse than rats at remembering things, while the memory spans of three other primates — baboons, pig-tailed macaques, and squirrel monkeys — exceeded only bees.”

Humans, on the other hand, remember mundane events like a pro. We’re able to ace the memory test they gave animals “effortlessly” up to 48 hours later.

“The data tell us that animals have no long-term memory of arbitrary events,” said ethologist Johan Lind, who headed the team. “We think humans’ ability to remember arbitrary events is unique.”

About that study: It drew on 100 studies of captive animals who had been given a memory test of recent random events. It’s known as the delayed matching-to-sample method (DMTS), in which visual stimulus, like a red circle, is shown to the subject.

“The red circle disappears, then, after a delay, it’s shown again with another sample stimulus — a blue square, say. The animal, usually with the incentive of a food reward, has to select the original sample it saw.”

Of course, you know your dog remembers a whole lot of stuff longer than two minutes. Those memories, claims the study, are associative memories — a cat associating the cat carrier with the danger going to the vet, for example.

The study says that animals have “specialized memory systems” hardwired to remember certain “biologically relevant information,” according to National Geographic.

We’re skeptical, of course — dogs certainly do seem to have memories that aren’t entirely related to “biologically relevant information” — but we’ll let this study have its moment in the sun.

Before we forget it.

Via National Geographic

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