5 min read


Can Dogs Know Time?



5 min read


Can Dogs Know Time?


Dogs have a tendency to adopt a routine. Whether it is waking up at 7 AM or eating dinner by 5 every day, they seem to abide by a strict schedule (which is known to any who try to change it!)

Have you ever noticed that your dog knows what time it is? They have an uncanny ability to know what time to get up in the morning, leave the house, come home from work, eat dinner and go to bed. They don't use calendars or watches, so how do they know this? Read on to find out!

Signs Your Dog Knows What Time it Is

Have you ever wondered what your dog would say if your pet were able to talk and tell time? It's likely you would be getting some pretty clear demands. Dog's live in the moment and have basic instincts to eat, hunt and play. 

It is likely your dog might be saying, "Hey, You, time to get off the couch and get me something to eat!". Instead, our dogs communicate with us through their body language. It's your job, as their owner and master, to provide them with the resources they need to be safe and healthy. Your ability to train and care for your dog is best when you are able to interpret the context of the dog's behavior and understand your dog's body language.

Happy homes have happy dogs. You can tell if your dog is happy by their confident posture. The happy dog will have a relaxed posture, the tail will be extended, the forehead is smooth and the mouth is open with their tongue hanging loosely. If it's playtime, you may receive an invitation to romp with a quick play bow in which the front legs are extended and the hind is up. 

Some dogs are beggars when their internal clock is telling them it is time to eat. Your dog may beg you with very cute expressions. Your dog may tilt their head and stare at you with big, open eyes. The ears may be dropped. If you are taking too long to fulfill the dog's request, you may even hear a little whimper. 

Dogs will show you they know your routine in multiple ways. Your dog's activity level will adapt to your schedule. You may find that your dog is energetic in the morning before you go to work and in the evening when you get home. Your dog may have learned to go take a nap while you are away. Mealtime is something your dog is not willing to miss and you may see your dog begging when it's dinner time for them. 

Dogs have different ways of signaling you that it is time for you to do something. Your dog may nudge and muzzle you. You may see your dog going to a location in the home that is typically associated with an activity and start begging in the spot. Or, if you are not in that location, they may walk back and forth signaling you to get over there to let them out, feed them, play, or whatever else it is that you do in that location. 

Some dogs experience separation anxiety and their perception of time can be involved in escalating behaviors. Separation anxiety in dogs is often expressed as barking, howling, whining, chewing, digging, pacing, scratching, and/or urinating and defecating in inappropriate places while an owner is away or upon his or her return.

Your responsiveness to your dog's signals will help you both to maintain regular routines and predictable behavior.

Body Language

When your dog thinks it's time for something, watch for:

  • Staring
  • Head Tilting
  • Dropped Ears
  • Whimpering
  • Tongue Hanging
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More cues a dog will give when they have something in their routine are:

  • Nudging You
  • Going To Locations In The Home At Times Activities Usually Occur
  • Adapting Their Activity Levels To Your Routines

The History of Dogs Telling Time


Animals, including humans, have circadian rhythms. These are 24-hour cycles in physiological processes that respond to lightness and dark. These circadian rhythms lead animals to respond to the physical state associated with certain times of the day. Without clocks or calendars, we would find that our own patterns for eating, sleeping, and activity would fall into cycles connected to lightness, darkness, and opportunity. 

Time is a concept that was developed by humans. Prehistoric people began recording time some 30,000 years ago. The first records of time were based on the movements of the sun and moon. Other seasonal and cyclical events formed concepts of time, for example, the seasons for rain, growth of crops, or migrations of birds and animals. 

One of the earliest methods of measuring time was the invention of the sundial. The earliest clocks were in the form of oil lamps by the Chinese in 4,000 BC, and later using calendar candles. With the technology of glass blowing came the invention of the hourglass in the 14th century. The earliest mechanical clocks were designed by Jacopo di Dondi in 1364. 

Albert Einstein explained concepts of time in terms of his principle of relativity, "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute - and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity."

Dogs and the Perception of Time


Humans construct time in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Humans record events by these dimensions. Dogs do not have these discrete measures of time. Dogs do have internal clocks that are driven by their circadian rhythms. 

According to Dr. Clive Wynne from Arizona State University, animals learn time in short intervals by the presentation of a stimulus. For example, pigeons will return to a campus every day at lunchtime.

Experiments have shown that cats learn the duration they must wait for food. When dogs are left by their owners for a more prolonged period of time than usual, they show more intense greeting behavior by meeting the owner at the door and wagging their tails. 

There are different notions about the cues dogs use to learn their sense of time. One notion is that the dogs are picking up on social cues. Author Alexandra Horowitz suggests that dogs use their sense of smell to tell time. As scents come and go throughout the day in the home, for example, your scent or that of food, the dog uses these scents to detect the presence or absence of events. 

Dogs do not demonstrate the ability to know the time for seasons or events over longer intervals than daily routines. Research on the memory abilities of dogs demonstrates that dogs do not have episodic memory abilities. This means they do not remember specific events that have occurred. They live in the moment. 

Teaching Your Dog to Wait


Learning to wait is a skill that both people and dogs need to learn. We all want to have our needs met and experience the rewards of immediate gratification, but there are many social reasons to learn to wait. 

Dogs live in the moment and can be very demanding. Teaching your dog to wait is an important skill. It gives your dog confidence and you better control of your pet. It is also part of teaching your dog to control impulses. When you are training your dog, remember to be patient and to back up and re-teach if your dog is missing a signal. Just like humans, they can become impatient when told to wait.

Your dog must understand the "Sit" command before you can train the "Wait" command. Start with the leash. Go to the door. Give your dog a hand signal for "Wait" such as an open palm with your finger pointing up. Begin to open the door. If your dog starts to move, stop. Place the dog back into the "Sit". Start again. Keep repeating until your dog stays seated while you open the door and you walk through it. Then move to teaching the "Wait" command with your dog in a standing position.

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By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Published: 05/06/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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