For some strange reason, the lyrics to “The Way We Were” have been playing over and over in my mind lately. Not in an obnoxious way like some songs do but no matter what, I can’t seem to purge them from my memory banks. It was just subtle enough to make me wonder about how memories work for dogs.
Dogs don’t have much in the way of short-term memory (in Sam’s case, this didn’t come as any big shock to me). I’ve been putting Calendula gel on Sam’s wound and on the IV insertion point to help the healing process. He despises this daily routine (even though it has made a significant improvement) and it’s been enough of a stimulus to trigger a flight response every time I open any tube or jar..be it hand cream for myself, or whatever. He slinks away quietly and tries to make himself invisible. And yet, he conveniently ‘forgets’ and tries to lick at it every opportunity he can, regardless of how many times I correct him. A recent Stockholm University study found that while dogs do have short-term memory, it can be forgotten in a manner of moments (this underscores a lot where Sam is concerned). Dogs have specialized memories which last much longer and allow them to remember such things as their owners, yet a passerby could be greeted in neutral terms (unless they become a frequent visitor) and will likely be forgotten quickly. I’m still trying to figure out why Sam does not put 2 + 2 together when it comes to the mailman but that’s a whole ‘nutter’ topic and might have something to do with people wearing uniforms because he’s has the same reaction to the UPS delivery guy as well (clearly that guy must also be a serial killer).
While dogs are able to ‘remember’ things, they do it in a different way. Uprights recall personal memories through episodic memory. Simply put, episodic memory is the collection of past personal experiences that occurred at a particular time and place. This is where we basically travel back in time to recall an experience. Dogs don’t have that same process-theirs is associative. Just like putting your shoes and jacket on before taking your pet for a walk, he will become excited whenever you do so because he associates that behavior with the event of going for a walk. It’s the same scenario if the catalyst is the evil vacuum cleaner. Try to recall the first time you brought out the vacuum. Your pup may have gone up to investigate and take a sniff at it. As soon as you turned it on and the infernal racket freaked the dog out, that association colors every other subsequent episode when you drag out the vacuum in the mind of your pup.
You can try to change that association however the stronger it is, the more difficult it will be. The best way is to try to take steps that create new positive associations. I know, easier said than done but worth a try, right? Till then, looks like those memories will light up the corners of my mind…now if I couldn’t only get Ms. Streisand to vacate the premises. Maybe I should listen to a different genre of music to replace the monotonous repetition of those lyrics and create a new association that isn’t so mind-numbing. Any suggestions?
Live, love, bark! <3