Do Dogs Remember What They Did 10 Minutes Ago?

“Did he really forget that he wasn’t allowed on the couch just 10 minutes after I scolded him?” If you’re a dog owner, you’ve likely wondered how much your furry friend remembers about their actions from even just moments ago. With their happy-go-lucky attitudes and seeming lack of guilt over “mistakes,” it can appear as though our canine companions have short-term memories spanning only seconds. But what does science actually tell us about dogs and their ability to remember recent events? Can 10 minutes really feel like a lifetime ago for our pups?

Definition of Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory, also known as primary or active memory, is the ability to hold a small amount of information in the mind for a short period of time, typically from 15 to 30 seconds (Cowan, 2008). It acts as a temporary workspace or “scratchpad” that allows information to be recalled and manipulated for brief periods before being forgotten or transferred to long-term memory.

Both humans and animals utilize short-term memory. In humans, it has a limited capacity of about 7 items or chunks of information (Miller, 1956). Items remain in short-term storage for 15 to 30 seconds before decaying, unless they are rehearsed and transferred to long-term memory. Short-term memory allows us to remember a phone number long enough to dial it, or recall the last few words spoken in a conversation (Verywell Mind, 2022).

Studies show dogs also utilize short-term memory when learning commands, identifying scents, or remembering information from several seconds prior. However, their exact memory span is still being researched (Fugazza & Miklósi, 2014).

Studies on Dog Short-Term Memory

Several scientific studies have been conducted to examine the duration of dogs’ short-term memory. Researchers at Stockholm University conducted an experiment to test how long dogs could remember a brief event [1]. They had owners interact with their dogs for 2 minutes, either by playing with a toy or petting. The dogs were then left alone for varying amounts of time up to 2 minutes, before being allowed to reunite with their owners. The researchers found that within 1-2 minutes, most dogs did not seem to remember the brief interaction with their owner.

Another study published in the journal Current Biology examined memory duration by having dogs repeat actions after varying delays [2]. The dogs were able to remember and repeat the demonstrated actions after delays of up to one minute. Performance declined rapidly after 90 seconds, suggesting this is the upper limit of dogs’ short-term memory.

Overall, scientific research indicates that dogs can hold episodic memories of brief events for 1-2 minutes. Their short-term memory span appears limited to less than two minutes in most studies.

Factors Affecting Dog Memory

A dog’s memory can be influenced by several key factors including breed, age, training methods, and health conditions. Some breeds like Border Collies and Poodles have been shown to excel at memory tasks compared to other breeds (Hill’s Pet Nutrition). A dog’s age also impacts memory, with puppies and younger dogs able to form short-term memories more easily than senior dogs. Older dogs can develop dog dementia which impairs memory and learning (East Bay Vet Clinic).

Additionally, the type of training used can affect a dog’s ability to remember commands and routines. Positive reinforcement training that rewards good behavior is most effective for memory retention. Harsh training methods or punishment can actually impair a dog’s memory. Maintaining mental stimulation through games, toys and social interaction also helps keep a dog’s memory sharp as they age.

Overall health impacts memory as well. Conditions like hypothyroidism, brain tumors or malnutrition can all contribute to memory decline in dogs. Working with a vet to monitor a dog’s health and treat any underlying conditions can help maximize their cognitive abilities.

Memory Duration for Common Commands

Despite their limited short-term memories, studies show that dogs can retain basic obedience commands learned in training for significant periods of time. With continued practice and reinforcement, dogs are able to commit commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “lie down” to long-term memory.

According to one study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, dogs were able to retain the “sit” command for at least 2 months without reinforcement, and remembered hand signals better than verbal cues ( Another study in Behavioural Processes found that dogs could remember hand signal cues for at least 3 years after initial training as puppies (

For more complex commands involving sequences of behaviors, dogs may need to practice them more frequently to avoid forgetting. But simple commands like sit, stay, and lie down can be remembered by dogs for months or years, as long as they are reinforced periodically.

Memory Duration for Recent Activities

Several studies have examined how long dogs can remember recent events and activities. One study published in Frontiers in Psychology tested dogs’ short-term memory for actions performed by their owner. The dogs were able to remember if their owner performed a simple command like pointing or nodding up to 64 seconds later. Their memory declined after that time period.

Another study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science looked at how long dogs could remember where food was hidden. The researchers found dogs could remember the location of hidden food for up to 2 minutes when there were no distractions. However, if there were distractions like toys and smells during the delay, the dogs’ memory declined rapidly after only 30 seconds.

Overall, studies show dogs generally have a short-term memory window of 30 seconds to 2 minutes for recent events and activities. Their memory declines quickly after that time period. Factors like distractions and complexity of the event impact how long dogs can remember. More research is needed to fully understand the duration of dogs’ short-term memory for real world experiences.

Strategies to Improve Dog Memory

There are several ways owners can help improve their dog’s memory and retention. Here are some effective strategies:

Repetition – Repeating cues, commands, and lessons will help reinforce them in your dog’s memory. Practice obedience skills daily.[1]

Reward-based training – Using treats and praise helps dogs associate the reward with the action you want them to remember. This positive reinforcement is key for good retention.

Break down into small steps – Teach complex behaviors in smaller chunks to avoid confusion. Allow your dog to master each step before moving on.

Use cues – Verbal, visual, and physical cues help trigger your dog’s memory before asking them to perform a behavior.

Avoid long gaps between training sessions – Consistency is important. Daily short sessions are more effective than long sessions once a week.

Minimize distractions – Remove anything that can break your dog’s focus during training. Once mastered, add distractions back in.

Be patient – Some dogs take longer to retain information. Work at your dog’s pace and keep training sessions positive.

Memory Differences by Breed

Studies show that there are differences in memory capacity across dog breeds. According to research from Vienna University, herding breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds outperform hound breeds on various cognitive tests, including those measuring short-term memory [1].

One study tested over 13,000 dogs on a delayed recall test, where dogs had to remember which container they saw food hidden in after a delay. Herding breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs and Border Collies showed superior short-term memory, recalling the location after delays up to 240 seconds. In contrast, hound breeds like Beagles performed poorly, unable to recall after more than 60 seconds [2].

Researchers speculate that superior working memory evolved in herding breeds to support their ability to recall numerous commands and directions from their owners. Scent hound breeds evolved for a different purpose, not requiring strong short-term memory. Overall, studies demonstrate measurable differences in short-term memory capacity across breeds.

Impact on Dog Training

A dog’s short-term memory capacity has significant implications for effective training techniques. According to Demant 2011 [1], dogs trained with shorter, more frequent sessions show better learning and retention than dogs trained for longer, less frequent sessions. This is because dogs struggle to retain commands or lessons that are taught over long periods of time in a single session.

Trainers should limit training sessions to 5-15 minutes and repeat them multiple times throughout the day [2]. Breaking training into small chunks allows the dog to gradually encode lessons into long-term memory through repetition and reinforcement. Trainers should also avoid introducing too many new commands in a single session, as this overloads the dog’s short-term memory capacity.

Understanding the limits of a dog’s working memory allows trainers to design sessions that optimize learning, retention, and progress.


In summary, dogs have the ability to form short-term memories that allow them to remember events from a few minutes to a few hours ago. However, their short-term memory capabilities are limited compared to humans. Factors like breed, age, training, and the type of event impact how long dogs can retain memories.

While dogs may not remember specifics like humans, they rely heavily on associative memory to connect events and experiences. This allows them to remember commands, where treats are hidden, and familiar faces over time. Though their memory declines with old age, maintaining training and forming positive associations can keep a dog’s memory sharp.

Understanding the scope of your dog’s memory can help inform training techniques. Using repetition, rewards, routine, and forming strong associations are key to helping dogs remember lessons long-term. Though they may not reminisce about the past, dogs live very much in the moment and their memory abilities serve their current needs.

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