Do Dogs Remember If They Did Something Bad? Facts

As dog owners, we’ve all experienced the classic scene of coming home to find our beloved furry companion looking guilty next to a chewed-up shoe or a toppled-over trash bin. 

The look on their faces seems to say, “I know I did something bad.” But do dogs truly remember their misdeeds, or is it just a human interpretation of their behavior? In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of canine memory and behavior to understand if dogs remember if they did something wrong.

Understanding Canine Memory

Like humans, dogs possess memory capabilities that allow them to learn from their experiences and adapt to their surroundings. However, their memory works differently from ours. 

Dogs have short-term memory, which lasts only a few minutes, and long-term memory, which can last for much longer periods. 

While they may not have the same recall abilities as humans, their long-term memory can be surprisingly impressive.

Episodic Memory in Dogs

Episodic memory is the ability to remember specific events or experiences. Humans rely on this type of memory to recall past events, but for a long time, it was believed that animals, including dogs, lacked this capacity. However, recent research suggests that dogs may indeed have a form of episodic memory.

Studies have shown that dogs can recall events from their recent past. For instance, in a study published in Current Biology, researchers found that dogs could remember what they were shown and imitate those actions after a delay of up to one minute. 

See also  Warning Signs When Introducing Dogs: Owner should know

This ability suggests that dogs might have a rudimentary form of episodic memory, allowing them to recall recent actions or events.

Do Dogs Feel Guilty?

The classic “guilty look” displayed by dogs when they’re caught in the act of misbehaving has intrigued dog owners and researchers alike. However, studies have revealed that the guilty appearance might not necessarily indicate that a dog remembers their bad behavior.

One such study conducted at Barnard College suggests that the guilty look is a response to the owner’s scolding, rather than a sign of remembering the misdeed. 

The researchers found that dogs displayed the guilty look even when they were innocent but were scolded by their owners. This implies that the dogs’ body language might be a reaction to their owners’ displeasure rather than a demonstration of remorse for their past actions.

Associative Learning and Consequences

While dogs might not remember their specific bad behaviors as humans do, they excel in associative learning. 

Associative learning refers to the process of connecting certain actions with specific outcomes or consequences. Dogs are highly perceptive animals, and they quickly learn through positive reinforcement or negative consequences.

For example, if a dog chews up a shoe and gets scolded, it may not remember the specific act of chewing the shoe later on, but it will associate chewing shoes with negative consequences. 

Consequently, the dog is less likely to repeat the behavior, as it has learned that doing so leads to an unfavorable outcome.

The Role of Scent

A dog’s sense of smell is exceptionally powerful, and it plays a crucial role in how they perceive the world around them. Interestingly, scent can also be linked to memory. 

See also  Why Is My 1-Week-Old Puppy Shaking? Causes + Care

Dogs have a specialized part of their brains called the olfactory bulb, which is dedicated to processing odors. This enables them to remember scents associated with specific experiences or people.

When a dog encounters an object or location they previously associated with a negative experience, the scent might trigger a behavioral response that appears similar to guilt. 

In reality, the dog is reacting to the scent of the previously scolded object or location, not necessarily recalling the past misdeed.


While dogs might not remember their past misdeeds in the same way humans do, they possess a memory system that allows them to learn from their experiences and adapt their behavior accordingly. 

The guilty look displayed by dogs when they’re caught doing something they shouldn’t might not indicate genuine guilt but rather a response to their owners’ scolding or negative associations with specific scents.

As dog owners, it is crucial to remember that positive reinforcement and consistent training are the most effective ways to shape a dog’s behavior. 

Understanding the intricacies of canine memory can help us build a stronger bond with our furry companions and ensure a happy and well-behaved canine companion.

In summary, dogs do have a form of memory that influences their behavior, but it might not be the same type of memory as humans possess. 

They rely more on associative learning and their powerful sense of smell to navigate the world around them and respond to different situations. 

So, the next time you find your dog looking guilty next to a toppled trash bin, remember that they might not be remembering their bad deed but rather responding to the context and scent around them.