How Dog Memory Works

There is little doubt that your dog remembers who you are when they greet you coming home. However, is that the limit of their knowledge or do dogs simply think in different terms than humans. While the short term memory of a dog is quite short, often just a couple of minutes, there are other ways in which they can remember things over the long term.

How Dogs Remember

Humans have what is called episodic memory where events that occur are kept in the long-term memory that enables people to almost travel back in time in a sense to recall an event. Dogs do not have episodic memory, but they do have associative memory which means that they remember things based on associations and not active memories.

A good example is when you put the leash on the dog to go out for a walk. When the dog sees the leash they get excited because they know that they will be going for a walk. By locking on to a familiar item that is associated with something they enjoy, the remember the experience of being out in the park, walking along the street, or playing and so forth.

Of course, this means that there are negative associations as well. The loud sound of the vacuum cleaner is one that often scares dogs because they do not understand what it is. So, when they see the vacuum cleaner it brings up memories of being afraid. The good news is that you can counter negative associations with positive ones so that they can better adjust to what is happening.


The truth is that most animals have this type of associative memory because it helps them survive on their own. Many thousands of generations have bred this into dogs and other animals to associate items with either good or bad experiences.

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Dog Memory

Change your Dog’s Memory

If you want to change your dog’s memory for the better so you don’t have to fight them when going to the vet’s office, you will need to change the experience that they associate with getting into the car.

One good way to change the association is by putting your dog’s favorite toy in the car so that they will relate to that rather than what the trip might offer. You should start by playing with the dog for long enough that they get into the car without hesitation. Then take them to a dog park where they can play some more.

The more you change the association the dog feels, the easier it will be to take them to the vet’s office. So, you should consider creating several positive experiences for your dog to counter every negative one which will change their associative memory.

Dogs live in the present and will let go of past negative memories when they can associate with positive ones. The same is true for humans to the extent that people should live in the present as well and overcome negative memories with more positive associations like you have with your dog.

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