Ask most people whether their dogs can remember things and most will look at you with pity: How could anyone who spends any time with dogs not know this? But science doesn’t look at the world they same way we do. This study that supports the concept that episodic memory does occur in dogs also points out the degree to which scientists define their terms. Unlike most of us, those who study memory recognize two kinds: episodic and semantic. Episodic memories are personal and specific to a situation whereas semantic memories are more general. From what I can gather, what role learning plays in these processes depends on how one defines learning.
But in spite of any limitations, studies such as these slowly but steadily demonstrate that animals possess mental capabilities once defined as solely within the realm of humans. What effect this will have on the way we relate to them and teach them remains to be seen.
And speaking of episodic memories, Bamboo the cat experienced one while I recorded this podcast. During his self-imposed exile inside the house in winter, he recalls ways to amuse himself that play no part in his routine the rest of the year. One of these is the Cleopatra Game that involves rolling himself in a rug and waiting to pounce on whoever walks by. The primary trigger appears to be boredom that occurs when he wants to play and I’m busy and the dogs want to sleep. This episode occurred when I was recording the podcast while the dogs took their morning naps. Fortunately, my new microphone didn’t pick up the sounds of Bam digging up and rolling himself in the rug, or Ollie getting fed up with the disturbance and chasing the feline miscreant out of the room. Meanwhile I soldiered on, finished podcast, then photographed the evidence before straightening it.