Can Dogs Judge Time?

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Introduction

It's always hard to leave our dogs. Whether we're just running out to do some errands, going to work for the full day, or maybe even leaving for vacation for a couple weeks, the looks our dogs give us right before we close the door can break our hearts. And since we're our pup's BFFs, they definitely are just as sad that we're leaving! 

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to figure out how to tell our dogs (with them understanding, at least) that we won't be gone for forever. Regardless, many owners out there wonder if their dogs actually understand the passage of time, and how long you're actually gone for. Can dogs tell when you're gone for an hour vs. weeks? 

Well, it turns out that while dogs can't necessarily tell time the way that we can, studies have shown that our puppers can tell we've been gone for longer amounts of time. So, especially when it comes to us leaving the apartment or house, our doggos can tell, in their own way, that we've been gone for a while.

Signs Your Dog Understands that Time has Passed

So as smart as we think our dogs are, no dog out there can actually read the seconds, minutes, and hour hands on the clock. But that doesn't mean that our doggos can't tell time in their own way. One of the ways we can tell that our dogs know we've been gone for a while is how excited they are when we get back! 

Studies have shown that owners that have been gone for longer amounts of time have a more excited woofer to return home to than owners that haven't been gone for as long. So the longer you've been gone, the happier your pooch will likely be when you get home. That includes behaviors like vigorous tail wagging (or maybe even body shaking, depending on how excited they are!), jumping up on you, and big, wet, slobbery kisses!

Dogs can also tell time based on how they sleep. Like us, dogs have biological clocks, or circadian rhythms, that tell them when to sleep, when to eat, and other daily functions. In regards to this circadian rhythm, your dog can "tell time" by getting tired when the sun sets, or being hungry when it rises in the morning! Certain behaviors you'll notice regarding being able to "tell time" based off of their circadian rhythm are perhaps being sleepy when the sun sets, or alert and ready to go when it rises in the morning! 

Similarly, your dog can tell what time of day it is primarily by their routine. If they seem to always be able to tell exactly when it's time to go for a walk, when it's time for dinner, or when it's time for bed, that's probably because they're used to doing these types of things during that time of the day. Dogs can actually perceive and understand patterns and routines, so it makes sense that they understand that it's probably time for a walk after you get out of bed, or that it's time for dinner after you've finished eating. 

So while this isn't necessarily being able to read the clock, they can at least associate certain things and activities with your schedule! You may notice behaviors like waiting by the food bowl around dinner time, heading to the door during a time in the afternoon that they're used to walking at, or just generally being more alert and watching you if they're expecting to do something. 

Body Language

If you are wondering if your dog can judge time, watch for the following:
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Wiggling
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

Other cues that your dog has a sense of time include:
  • Excited behavior
  • Sitting by the door at a time when you usually go for a walk
  • Waiting by their food bowl at dinner or breakfast time
  • Becoming tired when the sun sets
  • Being alert when the sun rises

The History Behind Time and Dogs

Dogs have been evolving and living alongside humans for tens of thousands of years. As a result, they're going to pick up on some of our habits, and associate some things we do with activities that involve them. 

For example, even though your dog can't read the clock to understand that 6 AM means wakeup time, many dogs will wake up around then just because that's the time we usually wake up. So no, dogs haven't evolved to be able to read the clock, but they have evolved enough to know that sunset means bedtime, sunrise means wake up, and the front door opening means it's time to play!

The Science Behind Time Passing and Pooches

Many scientists out there are dog lovers, just like the rest of us. As a result, they too get sad when they have to leave their dogs at home to do science-y things! So, it's only natural that there are studies out there that have determined that dogs can tell time, at least in the sense that they know their owners have been gone for a while. "The dogs [in one study] became much more excited when their owners returned after 2 hours compared to 30 minutes... This indicated that dogs knew that time had passed, and that they seemed to care." 

However, we have to remember that even though our puppers can at least somewhat tell that time has passed in regards to the fact that we're gone for a while, they just aren't going to really be able to get certain things. 

For example, "a dog cannot make a connection between a behavior and a consequence if there is more than a 4 second lag in between." So, if you're out for a while and your dog gets into trouble, it's likely that they won't understand why you're mad at them when you get home 2 hours later. 

Training Your Dog to Tell Time

There's nothing you can do to make your dog tell time. But, there are definitely things that you can do so that your dog will associate certain times with certain activities! 

So, if you want your dog to be ready to go outside when you wake up in the morning, start putting that into your routine. Wake up around the same time every morning, get your leash, and go for a jog. The more often you do this, the more used to this routine your dog will get. It will eventually get to the point that they'll be waiting for you by the door at a certain time of day! 

This can work with any activity or behavior. Routines are a good way for a dog to remain comfortable and happy with their home life.

How to React to Your Dog's Ability to Judge Times

  • Getting into trouble: if your doggo seems to get into trouble while you're gone for extended periods of time, it's important that you remain patient. You can offer some light reprimands, but remember that your dog may not understand what you're mad about. Instead of getting mad, try giving your dog another outlet to keep them entertained while you're gone. Try filling up a Kong with peanut butter, or buying them an interactive toy. The more entertained they are during the day, the less likely they'll get into trouble!
  • Separation Anxiety: some woofers get super freaked out if their owner leaves for a long time. Luckily, there's a lot that we can do, besides quitting our jobs to keep our dog feeling safe and happy while we're at work. Try putting your pooch in a small, quiet room that they're familiar with. There are also things called thunder shirts we can put on our doggos that have proven to help with anxiety as well.
  • Routine, Routine, Routine: if you want your dog to "tell time", you need to stick to a consistent routine. Get up at around the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time every night. Try to give them their meals at certain times as well. Eventually, your dog will associate these times with food, bedtime, or wake up time.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Judging Time!