Dogs most assuredly have the capacity to remember. It has been documented in a number of studies that dogs store every smell they encounter and this is how they derive a large portion of memory of people, other dogs’ places etc. This is why they love to smell, it is a big part of their mental stimulation and communication with other dogs and people to a certain extent, this is why they smell us when we meet.
As for the other assertions that dogs “know” what toy to get and if they remember to sit and wait at the front door when you ask them. Consider distractions as a factor when they are having trouble, not that they forgot or are stupid. Perhaps they are distracted or what you are asking has not “paid” off in the past so why should they do it. Many things we ask of our dogs is expensive behavior to them, maybe we think it is easy, however they have a different take on what they find easy. When they are getting it right perhaps they are keen and they are doing the activity because we’ve done it with them a number of times. Dogs are great discriminators; they only generalize well with fear based issues.
With regards to “punishments” let me say that it is consequence that drives behavior. Punishments do not have to be severely harsh or painful to be effective. It is the consequence that will drive the behavior and if you punish too severely you may cause some damage to the dogs psyche. This is how many dogs develop phobias; they have been hammered on repeatedly, either verbally or worse.
The gentleman who said that punishments or shall we say feedback to the dog has to be done immediately on the heals of the bad behavior or the good behavior for the conditioning to stick is correct. Dogs live in the moment, and they will not connect the garbage dissection of 12 noon to the 6pm reprimand, all that will happen is at 6pm the dog will feel unsafe, because the human is acting irrationally. This is the dogs take on it. This is where you get the “he knows he is bad” mentality. What the dog has learned is that sometimes when the humans come home they get mad. The dog learns it is safe when the humans are not around, so it goes potty or gets into the garbage etc...
However if you catch the dog in the act you could interrupt and put him into his crate for a good spell. The dog will then equate getting into the garbage results in a time out. The sooner we can give the dog feedback about good or unwanted behaviors the better we can train the dog to “remember”. It is consequence that drives behavior, not the sound of our voice no matter how authoritative. Then remember to manage your dog and do not let the dog get into the trouble in the first place.
Drayton Michaels, CTC
Urban Dawgs, LLC DBA Pit Bull Guru
Certified, Licensed, and Insured