Do dogs have a sense of time, or is it a coincidence when they wake you up just before your alarm rings? While they may not be able to tell it’s 6 am, they have a circadian rhythm that tells them it’s a certain point in the morning.
Do Dogs Have an Internal Clock?
Dogs do have an internal clock, but it’s not as accurate as a literal clock. Dogs are more attuned to the cycle of light and dark than they are to the concept of time.
For example, a dog could know that it’s time for their walk when the sun starts to go down. Or they may know that it’s breakfast time when they see rays of light on the kitchen floor.
However, this biological clock can be thrown off by things like daylight savings time or changes in your schedule. So if you usually take your dog for a walk at noon but one day you do it at 11 am, they may not understand what’s going on.
Why Else Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time?
Besides their biological ability to tell night from day, dogs have a sense of time because they’re able to remember past events and anticipate future ones. They have a good memory, and they’re able to understand cause and effect.
For example, your dog can remember that every time you leave the house, you come back a few hours later. So when you grab your keys and head for the door, your dog knows that you’ll be back soon.
Proof That Dogs Can Tell Time
If you’re still not convinced that canines have a sense of time, there is some proof. A 2018 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that mice – and by extension, other mammals – have specific neuronal circuits in their brains that are activated when the animal waits for something to happen.
The researchers put mice on a treadmill in a virtual reality environment and made virtual doors appear on the track and change the texture of the floor. After 6 seconds, the door opened and the mice could continue and pick up a reward. Several training sessions later, the doors were removed, but the mice would still wait precisely 6 seconds before continuing every time they stepped on the different texture.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that dogs can also be taught to sit or stay for certain lengths of time, depending on what you’re training them for.
How Do Dogs Perceive Time?
How do dogs have a sense of time if they can’t read a clock? They rely on sensory cues. For example, if your dog knows that they need to stay in their crate for 30 minutes while you’re at work, they’ll be able to do that. They may not understand that 30 minutes is a specific measure of time, but they know that they need to wait until you come back. And if you take longer to come back one day, they may sense that something is wrong.
Dogs also have a good sense of how long it takes for things to happen. For example, they know that it takes a few minutes for you to get out the door in the morning, so they’ll start getting excited when they see you getting your coat and keys.
Can Dogs Smell the Passing of Time?
Do dogs have a sense of time connected to their sense of smell? Some people believe they do. For example, when a storm is coming, some dogs will start to get antsy. They may be able to smell the changes in the air and predict what’s going to happen next. While there’s no scientific evidence to back this up, it’s an interesting theory that needs more research.
Do Dogs Like Having a Routine?
Dogs do like having a routine, but they’re also pretty adaptable. If you usually take them for a walk at noon but one day you do it at 11 am, they’ll be just as happy to go for a walk then. It may be hard to change it the other way round, though!
Besides, if there are major changes to your schedule, like you start working from home, your dog might start getting restless. They’ll know that something is different, and they won’t understand what’s going on.
Do Dogs Understand Past, Present and Future?
Dogs do understand the past, present and future to some extent. They can remember past events and anticipate future ones. They have episodic memory, which means they can remember specific events that happened in their lives.
However, it’s not certain whether they can actually relive these memories in their heads. It may just be implicit memory, meaning they remember what happened, but they don’t actually think about it. This allows them to remember the way back home from a walk, or how to open a door.
Tricks Involving Time That You Can Teach Your Dog
Now that you know that dogs do have a sense of time, you can start teaching them tricks involving time. For example, you can train your dog to sit or stay for specific lengths of time by using a stopwatch and rewarding your dog at regular intervals.
You can also use their sense of time to your advantage when potty training them. If you take them out to do their business at the same time every day, they’ll start to learn when they need to go and hold it in until then.
Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time? Yes, and You Can Work with It
Dogs do have a sense of time, but it’s not as accurate as a human clock. They can tell the difference between night and day, they remember past events, and they can anticipate future ones. They’re also good at learning routines.
You can use all of this to your advantage when training them. So, go ahead and start teaching your dog some tricks involving time!
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