You open the front door to the sight of your dog: tongue out, shaking her hips and wagging her tail. A split second later she bounds over to you at 100 miles per hour. You’re arriving home from work but the excitement is so palpable it feels like 1000 years have passed — and maybe they have for your dog?
Join us as we explore the question that has baffled many pet parents, scientists and veterinarians, “do dogs have a concept of time?”
The Great Debate: Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time?
Vets' and scientists' opinions tend to vary on this one. Some believe dogs can’t tell how much time has passed: one minute of a thorn in the paw may feel like an eternity, or 10 minutes extra waiting for food might feel as long as 10 hours.
Others believe this is a misconception and that our four-legged friends are able to differentiate between shorter and longer durations.
Can Dogs Tell the Time?
Let’s put it bluntly, your dog definitely can’t understand clocks. A numerical measurement of time is a very human concept and regardless of how smart your dog is, she’s a long way from becoming your programmable alarm clock.
Do Dogs Have Memories?
To understand how dogs perceive time we should look at different types of memory. Humans have semantic and episodic memory. Semantic memories are everything we learn — general knowledge, facts, meanings and so on, while episodic memories are recollections of events from our lives and the things we have experienced.
The jury is still out on whether dogs have episodic memories, but it’s a given that they have semantic memory for commands, behavioral cues and other things they’ve learned. That means your dog may understand that putting on a certain pair of shoes means you’re going to the park, but not all of the details of playing with that chihuahua last week.
Why does your dog start shaking with anxiety every time you go to the vet? Well, she might not remember exactly what happened, but she may have associated fear or discomfort from a previous procedure with the veterinary clinic.
Can Dogs Measure Periods of Time?
While opinion remains divided, a 2011 study suggests that dogs can distinguish between different lengths of time. The subjects were filmed and had their heart rates monitored while they were left at home alone for periods of 30 minutes, 2 hours and 4 hours. The dogs that were left alone for longer periods of time greeted their owners more enthusiastically when they got home.
So, if dogs can measure time in a general sense, is there any way to let them know how long you’ll be gone?
Not exactly, but you can condition your dog with phrases or actions that precede leaving the house for different lengths of time. This could be as simple as a “be right back” before a quick errand, or a special hug before leaving for work.
How Does My Dog Know When It’s Dinner Time?
If your dog paces around her bowl or comes to find you at the exact same time each day of the week, then this shows some kind of understanding of time. While a dog’s circadian rhythm tells them when to go to sleep or get up, different stimuli such as her stomach feeling empty or the way the sunlight is hitting the walls can help set your dog’s biological clock.
We’ve spoken about how powerful dogs’ noses are when we asked “why do dogs dig?” and “what smells do dogs hate?” and some scientists have gone as far as to suggest that a dog's sense of smell is so strong that they can “sniff” time. The scent of breakfast may linger for a certain amount of time, and its disappearance may be enough to signal that it’s time for the next meal to arrive.
Do Cats Have a Concept of Time?
If you’re a cat owner you may also be wondering “do cats have a sense of time?”
Just like dogs, our feline friends understand the passage of time and meal times using pointers such as sunlight, shadows and perhaps even bird song.
One study even found that cats could tell the difference between periods of 5, 8, 10 and 20 seconds, suggesting their internal clock may even be more accurate than a dog’s!
There’s still plenty to learn about our pets’ perception of time, but we don’t need to worry about them understanding the kitchen clock any time soon! No matter how long the wait for food feels, reward your dog with a mouth-watering meal. Canidae® Goodness Real Salmon & Brown Rice Recipe gives your pet the very best, with premium ingredients, great flavor, and no fillers or artificial preservatives. This recipe contains real salmon as the first ingredient and is supported by probiotics, antioxidants and Omega 3 and 6.
It’s time to treat your dog to a meal she’s really going to look forward to. Transition to Canidae’s tasty recipes today.