Can Dogs Sense Time Passed?

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Introduction

We often feel bad leaving our best buddies alone all day, knowing that while us humans are at work, our pooches are waiting for us to come home. Between daily commutes and squeezing in time at the gym, one can begin to wonder whether our dogs notice how much time has passed and if our dogs truly miss us while we are gone. 

Studies have shown that the answer is a definite yes. Generally, the longer our pups are left alone, the more enthusiastic and happy they will be once we return home. However, odds are that many of our pups just snooze while we are gone. Whether your dog can sense time, how a dog senses time, and how to help your dog cope with your absence are all explored below. Read on!

Signs Your Dog Can Sense Time

All animals (including humans) have a circadian rhythm, which is basically an internal clock that monitors our physical and behavioral changes over a 24-hour cycle. Dogs are also very in tune with their surroundings, and may also be affected by temperature changes and social cues. 

This internal, natural clock that controls our regular activities is often referred to as our biological clock. Circadian rhythms enable us to recognize that, when it becomes light, for instance, we begin to feel hungry or when daylight ends, we get tired.

While both dogs and humans have circadian rhythms, our habits tend to be quite different. Further, dogs are flexible in their sleep patterns, unlike us, and can be woken very quickly although they were in a deep sleep seconds before. And probably most noticeable, dogs are ready and willing to eat at any time of the day, not just when we tell them it's time for breakfast or dinner.

Dogs may even understand our routines often better than we do!

Body Language

Signs your dog can sense what time it is may include:
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Listening
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

Other signs to watch for are:
  • Waking you up for food or walks
  • Waiting at the window or door
  • Licking for attention

The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Time

Us humans have something unique called an episodic memory. An episodic memory enables us to "travel through time" by recalling past events and also look forward to future events. It's hard to fully understand a dog's reference of time because we have such a distinctive ability to conceptualize time. 

But just because dogs don't have our episodic memories doesn't mean dogs are completely unable to think outside of the moment. Researchers believe that dogs are fully capable of being able to recognize past events and being trained to anticipate future events based on past events. This is almost as if dogs have their own unique version of episodic memories. 

Researchers believe that the essential difference with our episodic memories is that we can pinpoint a past event by conceptualizing it in relation to other events. For instance we can remember our graduation, who attended the celebration, and what feelings we felt throughout the day as our families and friends celebrated. Our furry friends are a bit more limited, and can only tell how much time has passed since an event has occurred. For instance, it has been several hours since my food bowl was filled, or my human left.

Studies also support the idea that dogs recognize changes in behavior when left alone for different lengths in time. This is supported by evidence that dogs who have been separated from their humans for longer periods of time tend to show greater amounts of affection once their humans are home. As the amount of time away increases, so does the dog's affection. This research invites the inference that dogs are able to recognize, understand, and respond to different spans of time.

Helping Your Dog Cope with Your Absence

While some dogs get anxious when their humans leave, most dogs have no trouble coping with our separation and simply sleep through our absence. If your pup isn't happy when you leave and tends to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety, the difference between one hour and nine can mean the world to your pup. Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs are often expressed with whining, barking, chewing, pacing, or urinating while you are away or upon your return.

There are several ways to help your pup cope with your absence. It may help leave your doggo in a crate or small room while you are away. Dogs tend to feel safer and more comfortable in a quiet calm area when left alone. Watch your pup's behavior before you leave to determine whether your pup calms down in the crate or its anxiety ramps up. You can also try leaving behind an article of recently worn clothing as a way to keep your pup calm and remind them of your presence. Leaving a few toys as a distraction can also be helpful to make the time go by faster. 

How to React to Your Dog Having Separation Anxiety:

  • Be sure to give your pup plenty of exercise and play time while you are home.
  • Monitor your dog's symptoms in case they get worse.
  • Don't be afraid to reach out to a trainer if your pup needs help being alone.