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Home > Dogs > Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time? (Facts & FAQ)

Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time? (Facts & FAQ)

Standard Schnauzer Puppy

It seems that dogs always know when it’s time for their daily walk, bedtime, and, most of all, dinner time! But do dogs actually have a sense of time, or are these “senses” merely habits built up over time in response to repetition?

Most experts agree that this behavior is habitual—your dog is simply reacting to various behavioral clues telling them it’s time for dinner or their walk. But there seems to be more to this behavior than just habit alone: do dogs really have a sense of time? We set out to find the answer!

The bottom line is that dogs do have a sense of time, but it’s not the same as our sense of time. Let’s dive in!

divider-pawHow do dogs perceive time?

In humans, the passing of time is deeply connected to memory, and events in the past connect us in time to the present or even events in the future. We naturally measure the passing of time with our memories, assessing how long it’s been since we woke up, got our first job, or graduated high school, all connected to vivid memories that place us in a moment in time.

Most experts agree that animals have a more simplistic memory and tend to remember specific episodes or moments in time but cannot connect them in a linear way. For example, your dog may remember you leaving in the morning but cannot comprehend how long you’ve been away. This is why if you leave home even for 5 minutes, your dog will greet you as though you’ve been away for hours! That said, some dogs become highly anxious when left alone for long periods, indicating that they’re somewhat aware of the passing of time. Similarly, dogs will greet you with a different level of excitement if you’ve been away for a few days or weeks.

While dogs don’t perceive time the same way humans do, they can gauge it in their own unique way. This explains how your dog knows when it’s dinner time or time for their walk. Your dog doesn’t know that it’s 6 p.m.; they’ve merely picked up on the various clues around them that indicate dinnertime is near. For example, you may pick up the kids from school, do the dishes, and begin preparing dinner daily in the same order. Your dog has learned your habits and knows their dinner comes soon after these predictable events.

New Guinea Singing Dog
Image Credit: Piqsels

Memory and time perception

While dogs may have a more simplistic sense of time perception than humans, they also use their memories to measure time. Dogs associate certain memories with relating events, such as a leash means it’s time for a walk or a crate means it’s time for a car trip. This is how your dog can be successfully trained: They remember that a command relates to a certain outcome, even though they may not remember how long it’s been since their last training session! This shows that while memory is associated with your dog’s sense of time, it is also a learned habit that needs to be taught.

bloodhound
Image by: Edoma, Shutterstock

Dogs can perceive time through their sense of smell

We all know how much more sensitive a dog’s sense of hearing and smell is. In fact, dogs have such a powerful sense of smell that they can use it to perceive the passing of time. Most of your dog’s world and environment are defined and processed via scents. Dogs can sense changes in the air (hot air rising over the day or the cooler air of night coming in, for example), and they perceive this as the passing of time. Odors also decrease in intensity over a few hours, so a stronger odor is most likely a new one, while a weaker odor is how your dog senses the past.

divider-pawConclusion

Dogs do have a sense of time—it’s just much different from ours. Dogs may not be able to tell how long you’ve been away or how many years old they are, but they seem to have a sense of what time of day it is and will react to the passing of time in relation to the habits of the people and environment around them.

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Featured Image Credit: zora4dogs

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