Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 18, 2014

What Your Dog Remembers

Posted at 04:41PM - Comments: (25)

It never fails to surprise and amaze me: we were hiking recently along on a trail where we haven’t been for months and months and Otto stopped suddenly and started scanning a certain tree. The other dogs paused for a second, too, taking their cues from Otto, as if to say, “What’s up, guy?” And then, just as quickly, they moved on, even as Otto stood transfixed, sniffing the air and scrutinizing that tree – the one where he came closer than he did before or has since to catching a squirrel. Obviously, that close call with the squirrel was not as significant for me as it was for Otto, but when he stops and clearly remembers that place and looks for signs of other potentially catchable squirrels, of course, then I remember, too.

And it’s obvious to me that he does remember that moment, because clearly he’s seensquirrels in countless places, and chased them in dozens of places. But only in that one place did he catch a squirrel so unaware, running up so swiftly behind it, that it caught a glimpse of Otto and sprang for the tree with only inches to spare. Otto could practically feel the squirrel’s tail hair on his nose. And then, of course, it clung to the tree above him, chattering and chirping with alarm and, perhaps, squirrel verbal abuse, and knocking bits of bark down around him. A dog remembers that sort of stuff; I don’t, until Otto stops and stares at the tree where it all happened one day, at least three years ago.

There is one other place that Otto always remembers, where we once startled a veritable herd of deer, at least 20 of them, early one morning. The herd took off bouncing and leaping through the brush and across a ravine; we were on one side of it, and they crossed the creek and bounded up the other side. He had started to chase them and I called him back; then, when they were all out of sight, I let him run down into the ravine and fill his nose with their scent. It must have been very powerful – perhaps the whole herd had been sleeping there – and he spent a long time running back and forth in the ravine, sniffing. Every time we walk down the dirt road that leads to that ravine, he will at some point stop trotting and slow to a walk, and the closer we get to the spot where we saw all the deer, the slower he will walk until he is stalking, one paw at a time, while scanning the ravine and lifting his nose for any deer scent.

Of course, our dogs remember our friends’ and relatives’ houses, and going to the vet, groomer, boarding kennel, daycare, or dog park. In some of these places, they exhibit behavior that looks fearful or apprehension, and in some of these places they exhibit what looks like joyful anticipation. I suppose that behavior experts would say that it’s simply that they have formed positive or negative associations with things that happened to them, and have expectations that the similar positive or negative things might happen to them again in those places. I think those things are true – but I’m also certain that Otto remembers that squirrel, and the sensation of its tail hair on his nose, and the way it rained down tree bark and abuse on him.

Do your dogs remember certain places or events? 

Comments (25)

A few years back I was privileged to be owned by a Sheltie mix, Sam, who constantly amazed me with her intelligence and ability to remember things. We lived in a cabin in the woods at the time. One day Sam was stretched out sound asleep on my bed after a long hike. I was near the door and heard the familiar clink of tags on my landlady's dog as she trotted by. Suddenly Sam exploded from the bedroom, slammed into the screen door and insisted on being let out. She ran straight to a tree about 30 feet away and dug something up. Then she trotted back to the house triumphantly carrying a chunk of a large biscuit she had buried several days earlier, and hid it in her crate. Apparently she was afraid the other dog would sniff around and find her stash.

Posted by: Kiahsmom | September 8, 2015 4:22 PM    Report this comment

When my dog suddenly went blind after a botched operation, she changed overnight from an active confident dog to a dog who was cautious about putting one paw forward. She was a very fit 9 year old, used to several long walks a day, and now we could barely walk 20 feet. To rebuild her confidence we drove back to a huge beach in Maine where we had spent the winter when she was age 3. Every day that winter, regardless of the weather, we walked the winding cliff path through beach ball sized boulders down to the sandy floor and explored every inch of that beach, finally settling on our favorite rock at the far end. I hoped our return journey to the beach would help her fear subside. Now that she was blind, we entered from the parking lot by the stream and ambled over to our favorite rock. I let her off leash knowing she couldn't bump into anything. No longer tethered to me, she stood still, walked a few steps and hit the cold water, backed out and stood still again. Then she pointed her nose in the air and began to walk at a normal pace. We zigzagged up and down, crossed the stream where she stopped to listen to its direction, entered the ocean again, and finally ended up near the cliff path. With no hesitation she navigated the boulder field and picked her way up the cliff path with zero missteps. At that moment she became a confident, brave blind dog. I never expected her to find that cliff path while blind, but she remembered it after all those years. Dogs are amazing.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | September 8, 2015 3:23 PM    Report this comment

My labrador, Morgan, would travel with me for hunt test practice about a 2 hour drive through LA and then another 1/2hour. When we got to the turn-off (still about 30 mins. from our practice site) he would jump off the seat and search until he found a retrieving dummy, grab it, and bounce back on the seat. He would hold that dummy until we got to the site, happy as a clam. My friends, who would often accompany me to the site, often told me that the minute their dogs heard my van they would get all excited and run to the door waiting to go to one of their favorite places. If outside, they would run around trying to load themselves into the car. I would also take Morgan to a fenced field at a local high school for training and retrieving. When we would get anywhere near that field he never failed to get all excited whether we actually stopped or not.

Posted by: bblatka | September 8, 2015 3:18 PM    Report this comment

I have been able to put together a pretty detailed picture of my 13-year-old rescue dog's life before she was found as a stray, based on what she seems to remember and her reactions to those things. She has shown interest in a man with white hair, a man with a walker, a man on a scooter wheelchair, a man with a dreadful cough. She has shown fear of rain, anger at motorcycles, interest in chasing vehicles. It's fascinating to see all this, and heart-tugging to experience how much she loved her former "dad".

Posted by: EmmysMom | September 8, 2015 10:32 AM    Report this comment

Absolutely they remember. One of my greyhounds did not like snakes. I realized this one day when I mistook her stalking of a garter snake sitting on a concrete block next to our garage, for interest. She got as close as she dared and quicker than lightning grabbed that snake and thrashed it to death. All before my brain could register what was happening. Whenever we got anywhere near that area she would check that block for another snake. She absolutely remembered that incident for years and was ever vigilant from there on.

Posted by: YIKMDLF | September 8, 2015 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Thank you all so much for these stories! I really enjoyed reading them all! -- Nancy Kerns, WDJ Editor

Posted by: Nancy Kerns | September 8, 2014 12:10 PM    Report this comment

Last night my husband was straightening the bedding in the dog crates. In Miss Cleo's (our Min Pin) crate he found Besito's (the Rottweiler/Pit mix) favorite duck toy and handed it to her, this toy makes a very distinctive sound. Cleo was asleep in a dog bed across the room and when she heard the toy she looked over and saw Besito with it. She got the most puzzled look on her face because she knew where that toy was supposed to be. She immediately jumped up and ran to her crate to see, that sure enough, the duck toy was missing! She just looked so annoyed after that! It was so funny! I just couldn't believe she remembered she had stole it earlier and hid it in her crate.

Posted by: DogHouse | August 22, 2014 5:17 PM    Report this comment

My first doggie found me when she was 12 years old, she had been brought to a shelter by family of an elderly lady she had been living with for years. With me she was the one taken care of, instead of the caring one, but every now and then we would see an elderly lady on our walks, not the same one but a person with a particular type of long woollen coat, dark blue or dark green and the doggie would be a little confused, tempted to go after the lady... Then she would turn around and look at me with her greying muzzle and the thought in her face 'ah but no, I'm with you now!' and happily go home with me.

She lived with me for five years and taught me so much about life, a wise little lady.

Posted by: Jess | August 22, 2014 6:47 AM    Report this comment

My two year old Coton de Tulear fascinates me with his amazing visual and auditory memories. I leave the television on for him when I go to work in the morning - more for noise and company - yet he has studied and remembers the commercials containing other animals. When I come home in the evening, the minute he hears the music or voice of a commercial he's aware contains an animal, he becomes extremely excited and vocal and immediately runs to the TV to see his friends - long before I even see an animal in the commercial. He clearly identifies other dogs, cats, goats, bears, elephants and most recently cows.

When he was six months old, my radio station regularly played a song I liked by Imagine Dragons and I often picked him up and danced with him. To this day when he hears the first few notes of the song, he gets all excited and insists that I pick him up and dance!

Posted by: K80DID | August 20, 2014 6:13 PM    Report this comment

My two year old Coton de Tulear fascinates me with his amazing visual and auditory memories. I leave the television on for him when I go to work in the morning - more for noise and company - yet he has studied and remembers the commercials containing other animals. When I come home in the evening, the minute he hears the music or voice of a commercial he's aware contains an animal, he becomes extremely excited and vocal and immediately runs to the TV to see his friends - long before I even see an animal in the commercial. He clearly identifies other dogs, cats, goats, bears, elephants and most recently cows.

When he was six months old, my radio station regularly played a song I liked by Imagine Dragons and I often picked him up and danced with him. To this day when he hears the first few notes of the song, he gets all excited and insists that I pick him up and dance!

Posted by: K80DID | August 20, 2014 6:12 PM    Report this comment

Dogs never forget an experience good or bad,

Posted by: Pathannan | August 20, 2014 7:27 AM    Report this comment

As a shelter worker, I fostered a chihuahua mix for 6 wks after she was rescued from a hoarding situation. I was her first friend (after being at the shelter for a week), and she was not friendly (and sometimes VERY UNfriendly) with people she didn't know. She did get adopted and I told her adopter I would be happy to dog sit if she ever needed it. 9 mos later she asked me to dog sit. The first re-meeting at "Sissy's" house did not go well--I was treated as any other intruder. The next re-meet was at my house, where she had been fostered. As she entered the house you could almost see the light go on in her head: "Oh! I remember this place!" Her tail started to wag as she explored. She then became very friendly with me again and even with my housemate, whom she hadn't been overly friendly with. We've been good buds ever since.

Posted by: hg | August 19, 2014 9:09 PM    Report this comment

After my dog went blind we took her back to Maine where she had lived 7 years earlier. She wandered the beach testing the water and pawing at rocks. Then suddently she walked to the far end and started climbing up the path to our old rental house. She remembered. But the best story was a friend's dog who used to jump over a wooden fence to enter the field for daily walks. Years later the dog went blind and the fence was removed. Yet each time the blind dog walked to that same spot he jumped in the air over the now gone fence.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | August 19, 2014 3:30 PM    Report this comment

I have Pembroke Welsh Corgis and train in obedience, agility and tracking. My male particularly loves agility and when we drive to one of the fields where we have trained or competed, he whines loudly as we approach the turn off the interstate or major road. He's short; he cannot see out of the car except the sky or perhaps treetops flying by, but he knows. It may have been a year since we've been there, but he still knows. It is the only time that he ever whines.

Posted by: pemcor | August 19, 2014 3:26 PM    Report this comment

Several years ago we adopted a dog from a foster home in VIrginia. We live in Pennsylvania. We loved that dog, and wanted to get him a friend. A few years later we went back down to that same house to look at another dog. We took our dog with us. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, our dog went crazy. When we went in he ran right up to his former foster dad and jumped in his lap and kissed his face. He ran out the "terrier" door opposed to the other door. He knew he had been there and obviously loved his foster family, three years later.

Posted by: 3doghome | August 19, 2014 2:41 PM    Report this comment

I had a litter of puppies and one of the puppies went to live with my sister in another state. When she and the puppy came to visit over a year later, it was clear that the puppy remember many things from her first weeks of life with us. The most interesting was when my telephone alarm went off, she recognized it immediately and turned herself inside out to get to the room!

Posted by: slipgirl | August 19, 2014 1:46 PM    Report this comment

Last December my family adopted a sweet little Australian shepherd named Alfie from a rescue in the next county. His story was that he had been picked up by animal control as a feral dog and spent a few months at the rescue till we adopted him. He is thoroughly our dog now but from time to time he will see people with certain features or certain vehicles and look at them longingly like he is expecting something. Sometimes he will take an instant liking to someone and when they leave he looks so sad and sometimes whines. I believe he is remembering and mourning his former family that he lost. He loves our family now but it is touching that he deeply misses someone else he once loved.

Posted by: LBowman | August 19, 2014 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Several months ago I adopted a dog from our local shelter for my neighbors whose dog had recently died leaving them heartbroken. I kept her while she became healthier and recovered from her spay. We had visited them a few times and finally she went to live with them. I visit now and then and she is always delighted to see me. Her Mom says she acts differently and is more enthusiastic over me than anyone else who visits. There is no doubt that she does remember.

Posted by: sarosomo | August 19, 2014 1:01 PM    Report this comment

I once adopted a year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever from the Seattle Animal Shelter. He was friendly enough, but far more ball-obsessed than people oriented. So I was in for a surprise when, eight years later on our daily visit to a local park, I opened the back hatch and he sprung out of the car and streaked across the parking lot to a woman I had never seen before. They were equally excited to see each other. I walked over to find out who she was. As I approached, she asked, "This is Copper, right?" I confirmed it was. She had been the kennel attendant at the shelter while he was doing his time there. Apparently he had a rather high recidivism rate, and she took care of him off and on for several months as he came and went. Clearly he had not forgotten this woman who treated him kindly in his youth.

Posted by: Kutyagirl | August 19, 2014 12:05 PM    Report this comment

My previous lab, Hercules, found an entire hotdog, still wrapped in the bun, under the bleachers of the HS baseball field. He ate that found treat as only a lab would - in one giant gulp. To the end of his life several years later, whenever we went walking near those bleachers, Hercules would scout the ground below the bleachers, hoping against all hope, that those bleachers would indeed dispense him another wonderful hotdog. Bun not necessary. Do dogs remember? Seems old Herc certainly did if those memories included a hotdog.

Posted by: Zeusdogmom | August 19, 2014 11:13 AM    Report this comment

I have witnessed this many times with many of my dogs. the most memorable 2 are: my deaf english setter found a pizza on a back trail fire road when he was about 2. Must have dropped out of a truck. He ran off with it and well you know it is hard to get the attention of a deaf setter when he won't look at you when you are frantically signing, drop it, leave it. every time we would go there he carefully scanned the area for another "wild pizza". We took to calling this road pizza road. until the day he died at 12 he constantly looked for another pizza whenever we hiked that road..
his successor, another setter, once found an entire black bean burrito under a bush half way up a mountain. Again must have dropped out of someone's pack. He ate it with relish much to my chagrin. He always checked that particular bush the rest of his life. We call that trail burrito bush.
Love your dog stories. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by: 4dogmom | August 19, 2014 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I once had a dog that dropped a tennis ball into a heating vent when the cover was off. For years she would sit next to the vent and stare at it seemingly looking for her lost ball. And there was no way that the scent of it lingered that long after the fact.

Posted by: mweidman | August 19, 2014 11:06 AM    Report this comment

My yorkie remembers every single house on every single walk where there is a dog. Even if the dog isn't out, she will bark at the house, just knowing there is a dog behind those closed doors.

When I read about Otto's adventures and his being able to run so freely, I get jealous comparing my city walking. What a difference!! I have to find safe green space for my dog to be let off leash and run around. It would be so nice to live in a place where I didn't have to constantly worry about cars, other huge, not well trained dogs, stepping in those dog's poop everywhere, etc., etc. And to just let her be a dog and run all the time, one of her most favorite things to do!

Posted by: Sportschick | August 19, 2014 11:01 AM    Report this comment

Every morning on our walks, there is a particular tree where my dogs have seen and chased squirrels up that tree. We cannot go pass the tree without my dogs looking up it or smelling around it to do a squirrel check, even if there are not any around. Doesn't hurt to check I guess.

Posted by: furryfamily | August 18, 2014 7:28 PM    Report this comment

Linus, my 3 yr old great dane, pitt, lab mix (guessing), I believe is my Chessie, Amber Bear, reincarnated. He confirms it every time we go the the park for a walk, as well as in so many other ways. But, there was a special place at the edge of the creek where Amber could dive in when the water was running. Linus always goes to that same spot when we go for a walk at that park, none of my other dogs have or do go to that spot. That's one great memory passed down.

Posted by: dsegovia | August 18, 2014 4:33 PM    Report this comment

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