Dogs Copy Human Behavior – And Remember It

DeclarativeMemoryWe’ve heard that an elephant never forgets, but researchers have proven that dogs have a pretty good memory too. A recent study shows that dogs are capable of not only mimicking their human counterparts but also performing the same behavior when asked 10 minutes later.

This skill, called deferred imitation, shows that dogs can consciously recall memories about events in a way only humans were thought to be able. Behavioral ethologist, Jozsef Topal, first discovered dogs’ ability to imitate during a 2006 study. Using the “Do as I do” method, first developed and used by Keith and Catherine Hayes to teach infant chimpanzees to copy their actions, Topal proved that Philip, a Belgian Tervuren, was able to mimic his action. However, the experiment only proved the dog’s capability to repeat an action versus the capacity it may have to mentally remember a task.

“In 2009, another team concluded that dogs were only able to correctly imitate if there was no more than a 5-second delay between watching the action and repeating it,” reported ScienceNow. “With such a short retention span, dogs’ vaunted imitation skills seemed useless.”

But Behavioral Ethologist at Eotvos Lorand University Adam Miklosi, also a member of Topal’s 2006 and the 2009 research team, wasn’t taking that as a final answer. Miklosi conducted a third study designed to test a dog’s true memory capability. Teaming up with a graduate student and dog trainer, Claudia Fugazza, the duo discovered one missing command in the previous studies, “wait.”

Using only “Do as I Do,” gave the dog the need to only pay attention to what was being demonstrated, and telling the dog to “Do it” required them to imitate what was just shown. But Miklosi and Fugazza discovered that by using ‘deferred imitation’- a cognitive skill requiring an individual to recall an action after a delay of 1 minute or more – dogs were still able to remember the previous task.

First Miklosi and Fugazza told owners to train their eight adult dogs in the “Do as I do” method. After the dogs retained the task, owners were asked to add the additional step of walking their pet behind a screen 14 meters away to hide the experimental object, after using the command, “Do it!” After about 30 seconds, they then returned to the original starting position to perform the task again. Slowly, they increased the time between the demonstration, “Do as I Do,” and the command to “Do it.”

To their surprise, the dogs were able to remember the trained task despite the time they had to wait in between the two commands.

Until now, humans and apes were believed to be the only creatures that possessed a declarative memory. But the study concluded that dogs too have this type of memory, allowing them to  recall facts and events that happened longer than 10 minutes ago.

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