Incidental memory in dogs (Canis familiaris): adaptive behavioral solution at an unexpected memory test


Memory processing in nonhuman animals has been typically tested in situations where the animals are repeatedly trained to retrieve their memory trace, such as delayed matching to sample, serial probe recognition, etc. In contrast, how they utilize incidentally formed memory traces is not well investigated except in rodents. We examined whether domestic dogs could solve an unexpected test based on a single past experience. In Experiment 1, leashed dogs were led to 4 open, baited containers and allowed to eat from 2 of them (Exposure phase). After a walk outside for more than 10 min, during which time the containers were replaced with new identical ones, the dogs were unexpectedly returned to the site and unleashed for free exploration (test phase). Eleven out of 12 dogs first visited one of the containers from which they had not eaten. In Experiment 2, two containers had food in them, one had a nonedible object, and the last one was empty. Dogs visited all 4 containers and were allowed to eat one of the food rewards in the Exposure phase. In the test phase, unleashed dogs first visited the previously baited container from which they had not eaten significantly more often than chance. These results demonstrate that in an unexpected, test dogs may retrieve “what” and “where” information about seen (now invisible) items from incidental memory formed during a single past experience.

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This study was supported by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, No. 20220004, from the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) to KF, and by the Global COE Program, D-07, to Kyoto University. All of the experiments were conducted after collecting informed consent from the dogs’ owners. We thank all of the dogs and dog owners who volunteered for this study. We also wish to thank Shoko Suzuki and Ruprecht Mattig for their help in conducting our study in Free University of Berlin. Special thanks are due to Christoph Wulf for kind offering of his office for our testing in Berlin. We also wish to thank James R. Anderson for his valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Kazuo Fujita.

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Fujita, K., Morisaki, A., Takaoka, A. et al. Incidental memory in dogs (Canis familiaris): adaptive behavioral solution at an unexpected memory test. Anim Cogn 15, 1055–1063 (2012).

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  • Incidental memory
  • Dogs
  • Memory retrieval
  • Episodic memory