Dogs remember what we do

Next, they trained the dogs to lie down after watching a human action, no matter what it was.

First the dogs were trained in what is known as the "do as I do" method. They showed episodic-like memory.

"They're so tuned into human cues, which can be a good thing.But it also can be a disadvantage and make it very hard, because we might be cuing dogs when we're totally unaware of it". "Moreover this is the first study to assess memory of actions performed by others, not by the subjects themselves". The "Do as I Do" exercise involved an element of surprise by requiring the dogs to recall the test at an unexpected time, thus proving that the memories formed were episodic. In order to recall an event that was encoded incidentally, one has to mentally travel back in time to the situation where the event occurred and remember it. The difference between semantic and episodic memory could be framed as the difference between knowing and remembering. Fugazza and her team used a training method she developed call "Do As I Do" to get dogs to mimic human actions, such as touching an umbrella.

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It has been shown to exist in humans and primates, but never in dogs until now. For example, if their owner jumps in the air and then gives the "Do it!" command, the dog would jump in the air too. But it's been tough to confirmt hat, because you can't exactly ask dogs what they remember.

The dogs were tested in the same way after one minute and again after one hour, and were able to recall the actions after both time limits. In response the dogs lay down, expecting a command to do so - but instead, after a delay, they were unexpectedly given the "do it!" commanded. The dogs, after a slight pause, performed the action. In that one, the dogs were not taught to lie down, but just to "Do it!" - which the researchers say means the dogs expected to be told to imitate.

RG: What were the results?

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'The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans, ' says Claudia Fugazza of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary. This makes sense, as episodic memory is known to decay faster than other types of memory. Importantly, the dogs had to remember events they had witnessed, but not performed before.

RG: How might this play out in real life relationships between dogs and their owners? .

What researchers wanted to show was that dogs had the ability to recall events, even if they were not crucial or relevant to the present. Then, the humans surprised their canine companions with the "Do it!" command.

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RG: Do other species have episodic memory? "We wouldn't expect some dogs to remember past events and others not", if episodic-like memory is an ability that can be generalized to a species, she said. However previous studies tested memory of very simple stimuli like the presence or absence of food. Scientists did not prove that dogs are self-aware, but they called their memory episodic-like memory. The canine participants in that study aced that test, with almost all imitating the human actions even after a one-hour delay.