from the New York times-

Our beloved pets appear to know more than they are letting on.

Once again science has confirmed the suspicions of dog-owners that their beloved pets know more than they are letting on. In this case it has to do with memory, a favorite subject of researchers who study the mental abilities of other animals.

No one doubts that dogs can be trained to remember commands and names of objects. They also remember people and places. but Claudia Fugazza and her colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest set out to see whether dogs share a more complex kind of memory.

In people it is called episodic memory and it involves sense of self. In animals it's called episodic-like memory because it's difficult to plumb something as elusive as self without the aid of language.

Fugazza, Adam Miklosi and Akos Pogany developed a technique that depends on something called "Do-as-I-do" training.

In this training dogs learn to imitate any action the trainer takes. first the trainer does something like touch an open umbrella with his hand. then  he says "Do it". the dog then taps the umbrella with its paw, assuming the training is going well.

Fugazza and her colleagues studied dogs that had learned the do-as-I-do command. They then switched to a different kind of training, teaching the dogs to lie down on a mat as a response to a new action by the trainer rather than the wait for a "do it" command.

Finally they added one more step. After a trainer did something a dog had not seen before, like tapping an umbrella that lay nearby the mat with his hand, he took the dog behind a screen for a minute.

then he came back to the mat and, presumably to the dog's surprise, said "Do it". the dogs in the experiment reliably imitated the umbrella tap or whatever the the trainer had done before.

Fugazza and colleagues reported online in Current Biology that this showed that the dogs remembered an event they hadn't been concentrating on, the trainer's action. She said one aspect strengthened that conclusion-the dogs tended to lie down immediately when they got back to the mat, suggesting that their heads were in the "lie down" mode not the "do it" mode.

Also, the dogs were not as good at the imitation command when it was unexpected, which is what would happen with episodic-like memory rather than remembering as action for an expected command.

Other experiments have suggested that chimps, rats and pigeons have episodic-like memory.

Warmly and episodically,

Dave Lambert




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