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Can Dogs Tell Time?

Most dog owners would agree that their dog has an uncanny sense of time.

They know when it’s time to go for a walk, eat and sleep, and when to greet you at the door – all without prompting. So how do dogs tell time?

Let’s start with how humans tell time, so we can get a more accurate sense of how our dogs do it.

Humans tell time by using a clock and episodic memory, which is the ability to recall past events and look forward to future ones. But dogs do not do this. However that does not mean that they are perpetually stuck in the moment, either.

According to Animal Planet, “Dogs are capable of being trained based on past events and taught to anticipate future events based on past experiences.”

That’s great, but it still doesn’t answer our question: How do dogs tell time?

One way to measure that is by how long you’ve been gone.

“Studies show that dogs display greater affection toward their owners if they’ve been separated for longer periods of time. As the amount of time away increases, so does the dogs’ excitement. This will come as no surprise to dog owners; most canines get excited about the return of the master to the castle, especially after long absences. But this research is also important because it shows that dogs are capable of recognizing and responding to different spans of time,” notes Animal Planet.

Another suggestion is that dogs tell time on a more biological level.

“Dogs might use circadian oscillators – daily fluctuations of hormones, body temperature and neural activity – to know when food is likely to hit the bowl or when owners are likely to return from work. Instead of remembering how much time passes between meals or what time meals are given, dogs react to a biological state they reach at a particular time of day. And they react the same way at the same time every day to this stimulus,” writes Animal Planet.

In other words, their bodies tell them and they just “know” that it’s time for dinner, bed or going for walk.

Some experts think dog’s posses the ability to track how much time has passed since the last walk or feeding, and based on this, figure out time.

Dr. William A. Roberts, a former pyschology professor at the university of Western Ontario, told ABC News, “Instead of remembering when an event happened within a framework of past time, animals are keeping track of how much time has elapsed since caching or encountering a particular food item at a particular place and using elapsed time to indicate return to or avoidance of that location.”

In short, dogs can tell time based on the events in their lives. They do not have the ability to recall time based on past memories, but rather based on events like eating and walking.

One of the first things we are told when we get a dog is to create a routine for easier training. Take your dog out to potty at the same time, feed him and walk him at the same times every day. So you could argue that humans train their dogs to “tell time” when they establish a routine.

“Any pet owner will tell you that if you feed your dog or cat at a certain time of day the animal will start hounding the food bowl at the appropriate time of day,” Roberts added. “They are very good at recognizing specific time intervals, like 30 seconds from the last time his ears were scratched, or three hours since the last walk, but they can’t remember time as a dimension that extends into the past.”

PHOTO: damedeeso 

Sonya Simpkins

Sonya Simpkins is a contributing writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. In her spare time, she loves to take her dogs for long hikes and treks to the beach, out to eat and on long road trips across the county. She then turns those adventures into useful advice for other dog parents who also love to take their dogs with them wherever they go.

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July 17, 2013 By : Category : Behavior Tags:
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4 Comments Print

The Dog Park   


all animals can tell time.  The whole "wild" animal kingdom is like an office as far as time is concerned.


My brother's dog just moved from Germany back to the US with him and STILL trys to wake him at 7am every day. Not Germany time, local time. It was a seemless switch. I wonder how this fits in with this theory to the author, because my first instinct is to think there are some holes in it.


I live near a college campus with a carillon that tolls the hour.  While I can't hear it from inside my house, my dog wakes me at a specific hour every day regardless of daylight or other cues.  His more acute hearing may explain this, but how does he know to count the bells?


They know when hit the door My stray protegee Gigi know the sound of our cars and the garage door sounds when we arrive, she knows it is time for food.


Our adopted rooster Joe knows exactly when we wak e up in the morning so we can feed him , regretfully for us he beaive we will wake up on weekends at the same time bye bye extra time sleeping