When you think of the term "watch dog" you probably don't think about a dog telling time, do you? In fact, the idea of a dog being able to tell time might seem altogether silly!
However, some dog lovers swear that their furry best friends can tell time. So, that really gets you thinking, can dogs tell time? Of course, it'd be silly to see your dog looking at a clock or sporting a watch on their paw, but are there other ways a dog can tell time?
Signs Your Dog Understands Time
Though a dog probably won’t bark like clockwork on the hour, every hour, some dogs do seem to respond differently depending on how long their owner has been gone. If you’ve been gone for your regular eight to nine-hour workday, your dog probably acts pretty consistently when you get home.
They might jump up on you and wag their tail to show their excitement when you get home. Other dogs may even pace if their owner is running a bit behind and bark or whine once they see their human best friend. It depends on the dog and their personality, but most dogs are very happy when their owner comes home.
There have been some reports of dogs reacting differently when their owner comes home early. Say you come home after four hours of work instead of your regular eight. Instead of waiting at the window and wagging their tail upon your return, your furry companion may be still asleep on the couch, surprised to see you, and they may seem a bit confused. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean they aren't happy to see you, they may just notice you’ve broken from your regular routine.
Dogs also seem to have an innate ability to know when mealtimes are, and they tend to get pretty upset if supper is late. They even will let you know that their food time is approaching, often staring at their owners, barking, or pawing to make sure the humans know what to do.
History of Dogs Telling Time
Historically, dogs have been able to “tell time” in their own way for thousands of years. There are stories about dogs meeting their owners at the train - on time every day, and modern stories of dogs' reactions to their owners coming home.
Prior to that, it’s interesting to speculate about wolves and how they too may have told time. Could it be that K9s are just students of routine? Wolves didn’t have owners, but maybe they learned the “routine” of the sun and the moon to know what time to wake up, hunt, and do other things. This is all just speculation, but it’s interesting to think about.
A modern example of a dog being a good study of routine comes from a long time dog owner. She talked about how when she and her husband come home, their dog, who is usually mellow and quiet, gets excited, wants to play, and is eager to spend time with them.
However, if she or her husband break their routine, and come home at a different time, their dog hardly reacts at all. He’s been doing this for many years and has never strayed from this behavior. He appears to be just another example of dogs understanding routine and sticking to it.
Science Behind Dogs Telling Time
The history of this amazing ability ties into the science, behind it, as well. There are different theories about how dogs “tell time.” One of those theories centers around dogs' sense of smell. According to the American Kennel Club, an expert named Alexandra Horowitz thinks that your dog’s sense of smell can tell them how long you’ve been gone. According to her, a dog can tell how long you’ve been gone by how strong or weak your scent is in your house. According to the research, dogs can also smell how recently other people and dogs have been near a location, as well.
Other theories of dogs telling time center around dogs’ circadian rhythms. Some researchers believe dogs are governed by internal clocks and may tell time based on how light or dark it is outside.
Training Your Dog to Stay on a Schedule
As far as training your dog to tell time, it depends on what theory you take stock in. However, it seems that many sources believe that dogs are good at studying patterns and routine. So, if, for example, you want to teach your dog to expect meals at certain times of the day, simply feed him or her at exactly the same times every day. That way, they’ll always know what to expect.
Be careful to keep them on the routine though. Some dogs may become upset if you’re late! This may not work for all dogs, as a dog’s age or temperament may not allow them to follow that close of a routine.
If you believe the theory that dogs tell time based on strengths of scents around them, it’s interesting to note that you may be unintentionally “training” your dog to “tell time.” Since you can’t control your scent being in your home, your dog will simply pick up on it, no matter what. You can do things like controlling how long you’re gone, but other than that, it might just be up to your furry best friend’s nose.
So, can dogs tell time? It seems like they probably don’t tell time the way humans do - but they do seem to have an uncanny ability to know what’s coming next.
By Katie Anderson
Published: 03/31/2018, edited: 04/06/2020