Lately, science has been delving into the subject of dog memories. How good is a dog's memory? What exactly do dogs remember? And for how long? The best part is that science has been able to provide some pretty convincing answers.
One of the latest questions scientists have been asking is this: How does sleep affect a dog's memory?
A Study in Sleep and Dogs' Memory Function
In one recent study, researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), which is a technique that measures electrical activity in the brain using receptors placed on the scalp, to track brain activity as dogs took a nap. Scientists found that dogs have sleep spindles just like humans. Sleep spindles are short bursts of brain activity that take place during non-REM sleep. In addition, the study revealed that just like humans, the frequency of sleep spindles were directly connected to how well a dog retained new information learned just before going to sleep. To read more about the details of the study, see this article.
The study's co-author, Ivaylo Iotchev, described the process like this, "When sleep spindles happen, the brain is being shielded from outside information, which is very important for memory consolidation, because when you want to remember something, you don't want it to mix with outside information." This explains why the dogs in the study with the most sleep spindles remembered new tricks they had learned much better than the dogs in the study with less sleep spindles.
New Tricks and Naps
In practical terms, what does this study mean for pet owners? That just like us, dogs remember things better if they get a little nap time in right after learning something new. You can use this information to your advantage when teaching your pet tricks - even if they are up in age.
Try this: Next time you want to teach your pet a trick, spend a few minutes saying the command, showing your dog the desired action you want him to complete and then rewarding him with affection or his favorite treat. After repeating the trick several times, let your pet take a nap. After he wakes up, try saying the new command again. You might be surprised at how quickly he remembers.
Granted, every pet and every brain is different so each pet may require different amounts of training time. Just remember, if you teach your pet new tricks with patience and persistence he'll eventually learn anything you want to teach him. And of course, never underestimate the power of a quick nap for improving your dog's memory function!