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Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time? [It’s Time to Eat!]

Q&A: Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time?

Dogs are one of many animals that have an internal clock that is known as the circadian rhythm.

Keep reading for a more complete “do dogs have a sense of time?” answer, including:

  • Do dogs have a perception of time?
  • Does your dog know how long you’re away?
  • Does Rufus miss you when you leave?, and…
  • Dog time vs. Human time.

CC Image “Come on guys! It’s time to lunch!” courtesy of FUMIGRAPHIK_Photographist

Without needing to look at a watch cell phone Apple watch, our dogs just seem to automatically know when they should be having dinner, when they should be walked, treat time and so much more.

It seems like their internal clock is not only ticking, but also incredibly accurate!

In most cases, we use our own human reference points as a way to gauge our dog’s perception of time, but this isn’t exactly accurate.

Dogs don’t really grasp the concept of hours, minutes or seconds and that makes it a little different.

It’s more likely that a dog responds to the “time of day” as opposed to the actual time, such as a particular hour on the clock.

We are sure that dogs know what’s going on in terms of time, schedules and the passing of time.

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So we decided to look into the subject a little deeper to find out exactly what it is that causes them to know when certain things should happen, and why they’re so excited to see us after we’ve been gone for certain amounts of time.

Do Dogs Have A Perception Of Time?

As it turns out, dogs are one of many animals that have an internal clock that is known as the circadian rhythm.

This is a cycle within their physiological process, which is about 24 hours long, and responds primarily to light and dark cycles. They won’t be watching the clock to let you know they need their dinner at six o’clock.

They will more likely be responding to a physiological reference point that happens each day at the same time and is associated with eating.

This particular phenomenon also enables them to track time in their own way.

For instance, they might take note of where the sun is in the sky.

Do dogs have a sense of time? Dogs have an internal clock called a circadian rhythm that responds to light & dark cycles. Click To Tweet

They can also use social cues to let them know that a particular thing is supposed to happen, especially if it does so on a regular basis.

In essence, they aren’t tracking time, but rather, the events that happen over the course of the day and continue to happen in an ongoing fashion.

Some people even believe that a dog’s perception of time is closely linked to their sense of smell.

The book Being a Dog tells the story of how dogs are likely to note the particular presence and strength of certain scents in order to track time.

For instance, dogs might be inclined to think it’s feeding time by the strength of the scent of the food in their bowl. When you leave for work, they might learn to gauge your expected arrival time by your scent that lingers near the door.

This could be a strong indicator as to why it’s harder for dogs to track longer periods of time, especially when scents have been gone for quite some time.

Do Dogs Know How Long You Are Away?

Judging from the way our dogs greet us after we’ve been gone for a while, it’s safe to assume that they certainly know that we have been gone.

It’s also evidenced by the many viral videos of soldiers who have been gone and return to dogs that cry and seem overjoyed at their return.

In many cases, the severity of a dog’s reaction to the return of their person is directly tied to the amount of time that person has been gone. It can also be a leading cause of what many dog owners know well as separation anxiety.

Many of us can’t leave our dogs very long or they will get so upset and anxious that they chew things up, bark, howl and generally wreak havoc in our homes during our absence.

But are they really realizing the amount of time we are gone?

Again, it seems that many professionals agree, the more your scent dissipates from the home, the more your dog expects you to come home. If they are use to your return by gauging the amount of scent left in the home, then they can become anxious if that point passes and you are not yet home.

This is certainly even more the case if your schedule is usually right on time.

Do Dogs Miss Us When We Leave?

Along with wondering if dogs know how long we’ve been gone, we also might wonder if they miss us during that time.

Again, the reaction we get when we come home often gives us a resounding…


Many dog owners have noted that there is a distinct difference in how their dog’s reaction to their return if they have been left alone for thirty minutes, as to the reaction they receive when the dog has been left alone for two hours.

That difference fades a bit when owners return between the two and four hour markers.

Dog Time vs. Human Time

We’re all familiar with the fact that a human year is equal to about seven years in “dog time”. With this in mind, is it possible then to use this theory to gauge their perception of time as well, in relation with our own?

Actually, it isn’t. The whole concept of dog years in relation to human years reflects only on the life expectancy of both. It’s definitely not the same in relation to the concept of time.

It all goes back the way that humans perceive time and the way that dogs perceive time. As humans, we have the ability to use the clock and we understand the concrete measurements of time, down the very second. We understand that the sun rises at a particular time and it also goes down and gets dark at a particular time. We can even put our mathematical skills to work in knowing, by looking at the clock, exactly how many hours of sleep we’ll get, “if we go to sleep right now”.

Dog time, on the other hand, as we have already found out, has nothing to do with the hands of the clock. By using scent, social cues, and noting regular schedules, they can sense when certain things should or are suppose to be happening. If you could imagine being stuck on an uninhabited island, with no clocks, watches, or other people to determine time with, you would be close to understanding how time works for a dog.

Time To Go…

Do you have experience in noting how dogs deal with time and the things that happen over the course of the day?

Maybe you have a fur baby that has an uncanny ability to wake you at the same time every morning. If so, please take a moment and share your story.

We’d love to hear it!

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