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Do Dogs Understand Time?

daylight savings dogs understand time


For a long time, we have been fascinated by how our dogs seem so capable of accurately keeping track of time. Whether seated by the window patiently waiting for us to come home or waiting for dinnertime, our canine companions and their puppy-dog-eyes have the uncanny ability to remind us of their routines and expectations. But how do they keep track of time when they don’t even wear watches?

Dogs Understand Time Through Perception and Memory

dogs-understand-time-vet-organicsThe problem is that we try to understand how dogs perceive time by using our own measuring system - clocks and memory. Unlike dogs and other animals, we have episodic memory, which allows us to recall past events, recognize the present, and anticipate the future. Time to us humans is a set of time-periods and events. The more significant the event is, the more likely we will remember it in future. For example, we can vividly recall graduation, an awesome hike with our up, or a raucous road trip, including the people that were there, the music we played, and the food we ate.

Dogs perceive time in a much different way. There is evidence that they have some episodic memory because they can be taught based on past events and can anticipate future events. However, they mostly keep track of how long ago events occurred. For example, they are aware of how long we leave them alone and how long it has been since their last meal or walk. They won’t remember details like what clothes we wore or which neighbors we passed unless it’s a regular occurrence, or an especially memorable event, like the neighbor giving them treats or we wear our regular running shoes.

Dogs Understand Time with Different Clocks

dogs-understand-time-vet-organicsWe use clocks and timepieces, calendars and planners, alarms and astronomy. But what do dogs have? Well, it turns out our pooches may have a strong psychological clock called a circadian rhythm. We have a rhythm too, but it isn’t very strong. Most animals have a circadian rhythm that helps them associate events with a particular time of day. This rhythm is why our fur-babies are so heavily tied to their routines. It isn’t just because they have a few events like food and walks to look forward to each day, but because their biology helps them use their daily rhythm as important markers for the passage of time.

This also explains why mealtime can be such a big excitement trigger. Fido only has so much to look forward to each day, but he also has an internal clock that’s reminding him it’s time to eat. EcoEats is the perfect food for dogs. It’s vet-approved for all life stages and is a healthful alternative to commercial dog food, which can upset our pups digestive systems. Give it a try but be warned - their dinner alarm will be ringing extra loud in anticipation each evening. Dogs love the taste the EcoEats.

Dogs Understand Time With Environmental Markers

dogs-understand-time-vet-organicsPerception, memory, and circadian rhythms are all internal functions that guide our canine companions to the dinner table each evening, but there are also have environmental factors that play a role. Daylight and scent are two examples. That’s right! They see and smell time - sort of. The position of the sun changes how light will come in the windows or where shadows are in the backyard. This is a consistent marker that can provide clues about what time it is each day. When dinner time changes because of daylight savings or when we are in different locations, it can cause confusion.

Smell is also a ticking minute hand for our pups, but it isn’t the passage of time they are smelling. Instead, they are noticing patterns and markers, then including those in their daily routines. For example, plants may bloom or be particularly fragrant at different times of the day. Animals may pass by the yard on their own daily or nightly routines, leaving behind traces of timely scents. Also, showers, laundry, car exhaust, and other markers may indicate certain days of the week, prompt certain activities, or reveal an event is likely to occur. They rely on their noses for so much! It makes sense that they would also use them to help tell time.

What are some cues your dog uses to get through the day? Share your pup’s best “it’s time” face with us on  Facebook and Instagram, using #VetOrganics.

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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