Do you own a rescue dog? Ever wonder if they remember past experiences, or past owners? Do dogs even think about those things?
Dogs do have great memories. That’s how they learn tricks, commands, and routines. But there are different types of memories that help our brains—and dogs’ brains—remember different types of things.
One type of memory is called your semantic memory. It “refers to a portion of long-term memory that processes ideas and concepts that are not drawn from personal experience. Semantic memory includes things that are common knowledge, such as the names of colors, the sounds of letters, the capitals of countries and other basic facts acquired over a lifetime.”
This is why your dog may have already known some basic commands from their previous owner. These basic facts and routine actions stick with us like they stick with dogs. As long as you practice them from time to time, your dog will always know how to do things like sit, shake, and lay down.
Dogs also use associative memories. This “refers to the ability to remember relationships between concepts, and not just the individual concepts themselves.” You can see this sometimes in dogs when they have anxiety and fears about things that seem a bit irrational to us humans.
As humans, we replay our memories of previous experiences in our minds like a movie or TV episode. It’s actually called episodic memory. There have been tests done to try and figure out whether or not dogs also have this episodic memory. It’s hard to know for sure because we can’t just ask the dogs if they are having episodic memories. But from these tests, some scientists think that dogs may in fact remember this way. Crazy to think about, right?
How Long Do Dogs Remember Their Past?
As far as their short-term memory goes, dogs typically forget an event after about 2 minutes. This is why scolding a dog way after the fact will only confuse them.
If your dog has an accident in the house while you’re gone, and then you come back hours later and scold them, they will just think you are mad about the pee or poop—not necessarily about it happening in the house. And this could cause them to just hide their accident better next time, so you don’t get mad.
But again, their long-term memory will still help them remember the important things like their training, who you are, and possibly those previous experiences.
Do Dogs Know When They've Been Adopted?
Dogs learn to adapt quickly. And although it takes a little time, it’s not too long before they start to form a bond with you. They love their new home, and their new family. But they don’t actually know what the animal shelter was, or that you “rescued” them. Dogs live much more in the moment than we do. So they are just happy to be with you now.
Dogs will love you and bond with you because of how you treat and take care of them. They are pretty intuitive, and they can sense your emotions and attitude. If you seem like a safe person, they will begin to feel safe with you and trust you. It will be a different adjustment period with every rescue dog, because every dog is different. But they all have the capability to trust and love again.