Just Where I Left It …

Looking for these?
Looking for these?

Dogs’ memories — how well they remember things over time, whether they remember people, other dogs, or their mothers and siblings years after they last met — are the topic of much speculation and, lately, of serious research.
As Jana gets older and begins to show her age in some ways, I sometimes wonder whether she’s becoming forgetful or confused in the ways that many humans do as we age. She sometimes will stand and look at me and bark (and bark and bark), for example, and I cannot figure out what she wants or needs.
But then there are the encounters with smelly things on walks. She’ll find something — scraps of food, something dead, sometimes even worse things — that she wants to eat and that I do not want her to eat (or roll in). I’ll give her a stern, “Leave it,” and encourage her past the Thing. I’ll make a mental note to remember this Thing on our way home. A half hour or 45 minutes later, we’ll be walking home. The Thing will, of course, have completely slipped my sieve-like mind. Not Jana’s though. She beelines for it.
Sure, she could be smelling it as we approach. While that’s a reasonable explanation for Thing encounters on daily walks, the same thing can happen with encounters that are weeks or even months apart. At the dog beach we used to visit in Florida, she’d remember where a really good dead Thing had been — months later. It was never still there, and the tides, the wind, the cleanup crews, the other dogs and other animals would have obliterated any remaining scent. On hikes, she’ll dash off to pick up a rock she noticed on the way in — sometimes a couple hours later, as we head to the car. She seeks out remembered toys and beds at friends’ houses, too.
While generations of scientists and dog lovers have accepted the idea that dogs live fully in the moment — and they really seem to — that does not mean they don’t also remember and plan. Dogs clearly make “mental notes” of significant things, as we do. They appear to be far better than many of us at actually remembering to seek those things out (and remembering where to look for them).
We should all enlist this talent to keep track of our eyeglasses, car keys, and cellphones!

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