Can Dogs Tell Time? The Answer Will Surprise You

Dogs have a sense of time, but they probably don't think about time like humans do.

Published February 18, 2023
Woman with pet dog sitting and working indoors at home

Dogs seem to have a sense of time, but they probably don't think about time in an abstract way like humans do. They will wait eagerly for at the front door to open when they expect their favorite person to come home. And every dog knows when it's time to eat or go for a walk. Dogs are able to respond to time, although they do not have the ability to tell what time it is. They can be trained to react when events occur at different times of the day, anticipating the cues given by their owners.

Can Dogs Tell Time?

Dogs can tell time, but not to the extent of humans or other animals. Dogs have a sense of "time," but it is more instinctive than intellectual. Dogs can tell when it's time to eat or go outside, but they can't tell time in the same abstract way that you can.

Dogs can sense time instinctively by using their senses to tell them when something important is going to happen, such as dinner. For example, if you always feed your dog at 7 p.m., they will know that it's dinnertime, even if you don't say anything about it.

Fast Fact

Dogs may sense that time has passed based on how strong smells are. For example, if you leave for work, your smell will slowly fade over the course of the day. Right before the time you come home, your smell will be weak. Your dog may use this information to determine when you are likely to come back, like a smell-based countdown clock.

Dogs also seem to understand when more time has passed in an abstract way. For example, dogs respond more strongly when someone who is away for a long amount of time comes home, suggesting they are able to understand when more time has passed than usual.

Dogs also have an internal clock that tells them when it's time to do something like go out or come in from playing outside. They have neurons in their brain that encode information about spatial awareness, and one study of mice found that these neurons also encode information about time. Because of this, dogs can likely anticipate something they expect to happen in the future. Time is something dogs have an instinctual sense about, but they probably don't think about time like you do.

Telling Time Based on the Sun

Most people are familiar with the concept of dogs being able to tell time. But how do they do it? There are several ways dogs can tell time, and one method relies on sight. Dogs can look at the sun or sunlight for cues about what is going to happen next.

This is where having a routine comes into play. A routine gives your dog structure in their life. It helps them know what to expect and lets them know what comes next. If you have a puppy, it's important to establish a daily routine from the beginning. This will help your puppy get into a natural rhythm and feel more comfortable in their environment.

Old Labrador Retriever Looking Up During Beautiful Sunrise

The Circadian Rhythm

Dogs have a circadian rhythm, which is the biological clock that regulates their sleep and wakefulness. It's a series of internal processes that occur in 24-hour cycles. It is important to understand that dogs are not nocturnal or diurnal animals. They're crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dawn and dusk, but their activity levels do vary with the time of day.

Circadian rhythms are controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This area of the brain produces hormones that cause changes in metabolism, stimulation of different organs, and other systems within the body. The hypothalamus also controls body temperature, hormone production, and sleep patterns.

Circadian rhythms regulate your dog's sleeping patterns as well as their appetite and digestion rates. This system is what keeps your dog on a regular pattern throughout the day, and it can make it seem like your dog is telling time, when they are just following their natural internal clock.

Do Dogs Know What a Clock Is?

Dogs can't tell time in the traditional sense. They don't understand what a clock is, or understand what hours are. But they can learn to associate the sound of a clock with something that happens at a certain time of day, such as mealtime or playtime. They also may recognize your departure as you put on your coat and grab your keys every morning before work.

Dog in a coffee shop cafe with vintage clock

Interesting Facts About Time and Dogs

There are interesting facts about time and dogs, including:

  • If you move your dog into a new house where there isn't any natural light coming through the windows during certain points in the day, they may be confused by this change and lose track of their schedule without reminders from you.
  • Dogs can tell when you're coming home, even if they don't know the exact time.
  • Research shows that dogs are able to estimate how long a wait is by drawing on past experiences.
  • Dogs can hear ticking clocks or hear the sound of food being prepared for dinner. Therefore, it's possible that dogs could use these sounds to determine how long until dinner is served.

Additional Research is Needed

As you can see, there is a lot of information that scientists don't know about dogs and their ability to tell time. While there are some studies that show dogs are capable of telling time, it's clear that they don't have a full understanding of how long an hour is. It will be interesting to see if future research can shed more light on this topic!

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Can Dogs Tell Time? The Answer Will Surprise You