Do Pets Have Good Memories?

Cat Think

In general animals do have good memories. You probably remember that old saying about having a memory like an elephant.

A pet’s associative memory is long term. It’s when the pet has a positive or negative memory associated with something they hear, smell or see. Real or short term memory lasts about 5 minutes for a dog and about 16 minutes for a cat.

Wild herd animals migrate year after year to the same area, so memory must be in play.

Pot-bellied Pigs are very popular pets (say that fast 10 times). They are intelligent and curious and sometimes try and can outwit their owners. Pigs have long-term memories which they use to problem solve in different situations. They learn quickly and on the intelligence scale are ranked 4th, after humans, primates, dolphins and whales.

Guinea pig memoryGuinea Pigs have fairly good memories, using their senses of smell and hearing mainly. They learn to recognize and remember the sounds of your footsteps and will respond to their name.

Perhaps people should think twice about using “bird brain” as a derogatory remark to others. In studies of many different types of birds, scientists have discovered that many birds have outstanding abilities to remember things. Pigeons in particular showed amazing long-term memories.

Hamsters and gerbils seem to have only short-term memories lasting a few hours.

Reptiles and amphibians have limited memories. They may recognize you by scent, but that’s probably all you’ll get.

Horses have excellent long-term memories. It’s very important not to frighten your horse as it will remember what you do for years. It can be very difficult to retrain a horse to overcome bad experiences. Of course, your horse will remember pleasant experiences as well. Positive training with a kind hand is very important.

Same goes for donkeys, they have incredible memories. They are independent, learn easily and can reason. While horses immediately take flight, a Donkey will try to escape danger, but often stands and faces the threat. Donkeys will refuse to do anything that may compromise safety which is probably where they get the undeserved reputation for being stubborn and lazy.

Cats appear to remember things they feel are important to them. There are stories told by cat owners who have moved long distances. Their cats manage to find their way back to the original home where perhaps they feel safe and more comfortable. Cats that always remain indoors seem to take some time to become accustomed to their new surroundings. It’s thought that the “homing” ability is similar to a bird’s. Another theory could be their sensitivity to the Earth’s magnetic fields. Cats can be taught tricks and do remember them. If you have specific feeding times, they seem to have an internal clock and will seek out their dishes, just as dogs do.

Dogs definitely do have long-term memories. A lot of their behavior is instinctual, but they remember people, places, treatment, words, signals – the list goes on. Just like humans, some dogs (and other animals as well) have better memories than others. Many working dogs will think independently and draw on past experiences to problem solve. It may take a while, but consistent training will trigger a dog’s memory. When dogs dream, they are probably reliving and remembering past events and experiences. They remember people they haven’t seen for a long time, even years. While dogs as most animals do, live in the present, walking past a familiar place, sniffing a familiar odor, hearing a familiar sound, all can prompt a dog’s memory.

My personal experience – More years ago than I care to remember we lived in a 3-apartment house in Brooklyn, NY, owned by my grandmother. We had a GSD mix I had named Cookie because her color reminded me of one. I come from a family of animal lovers and an uncle, being no exception, brought home a stray dog whom we immediately dubbed Brownie. Brownie was very happy to join our menagerie and although living upstairs with my uncle, came to visit us daily and play with Cookie. But changes eventually came and my family moved quite a distance away. It was a year before we returned for a visit. In the interim Brownie had become quite a watchdog and wouldn’t allow anyone in without my uncle’s approval. When Brownie heard us come in two flights down, instead of her usual barking/growling, she began whining and wagging her tail like a propeller. She heard our footsteps and then our voices and remembered her old friends.

Do you have a story to share about your pet’s incredible memory? We’d love to hear from you.

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