Can Dogs Tell Time? How Can Dogs Tell Time?

Can Dogs Tell Time? How Can Dogs Tell Time?

Does your dog seem to know exactly when it’s dinner time or when it’s time to go for an evening walk? Whenever you’re home after a tiring day, haven’t you noticed your furry friend looking at the gate waiting for you? We’re sure that dogs can’t watch clocks yet they seem to know when we’re coming home. So, does that mean dogs can tell time?

Can Dogs Tell Time?

No, dogs can’t figure out what time it is exactly by looking at a wall clock or a stopwatch. But, due to the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that usually follow a 24-hour pattern, a dog’s brain can get used to some environmental and social changes. Their brain memorizes the sequence of events happening at such changes and makes them expect the same events to occur under similar circumstances. So, it’s just a pattern of daily tasks that makes your dog’s brain alert about time.

Well, we’re pretty sure you’re curious to learn how your dog determines time. Read on to find out the details.

How Can Animals Tell Time?

Every animal living on the planet has a Circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are the pattern of social, physical, and mental changes that an animal follows for a day. These rhythms may also depend upon factors like temperature and social cues. Circadian rhythms are coordinated by the brain of animals. By enabling neuronal and hormonal activities in the body, this internal mechanism governs every animal’s regular activities and acts as a biological clock.

This was proven by behavioral neuroscience research wherein a virtual reality, researchers used mice to work on a treadmill. Every mouse went along a path to a virtually closed door. At this door, the floor changed its texture. After six seconds, exactly, the door opened and the mouse was rewarded. The virtual door had vanished after several training sessions, but the mouse still waited for six seconds to gain a reward.

How Can Dogs Tell Time?

Dogs in the same way can get used to a certain pattern of everyday life. When it becomes bright, they wake up and play with you. When you dress up for your office, they will wag you a goodbye. When the sun meets the horizon, they’ll be waiting for you at your doorstep and when it gets dark, they’ll feel sleepy. So, all thanks to the Circadian rhythm, your dog expects recurring activities at certain times and circumstances.

Do Dogs and Humans Have the Same Circadian Rhythm?

Although there are circadian cycles and biological clocks in both dogs and humans, we vary in our behaviors. Dogs, for instance, are versatile in their sleep habits and can be woken up very soon, even if they have been in a deep sleep. While adult humans have one main sleep per day that lasts for almost 8 hours, dogs have more than one sleep and wake episode. A dog’s sleep cycle consists of 16 minutes of sleeping time and 5 minutes of wake cycle. Due to this discrepancy in the sleeping cycles of humans and dogs, they have a different way of observing time. Also, Circadian rhythm mainly depends on everyday works which are different for both dogs and humans.

You might also be interested in Can Dogs Think?

Does My Dog Have a Sense of Time Passing?

Owners also question if dogs are going through the time and whether our dogs are missing us while we are gone. Yeah, there’s a straightforward answer to that, dogs do have a sense of passing time. When dogs were left alone during various times in one study, after the owner’s return, the dogs reacted with different levels of enthusiasm. Generally, the longer the time your dogs are left lonely, the more enthusiastic welcome the owner observed while returning home.

Can Dogs Smell Time?

Author of “Being a Dog”, Alexandra Horowitz says mentioned that dogs detect time with their strong sense of smell. Dogs can smell time but how? A weaker and faint odor of an object is something that was left in the past while a strong odor of an object is something that is left freshly. By being able to detect the concentration of smell, dogs can know how long ago something was left. Horowitz stated these facts in an interview with NPR.

Have you ever noticed your dog waiting for your return? This can also be explained by the sense of smell that dogs possess. Your scent starts to dissipate and according to the concentration of smell, your dog can identify whether you’re arriving or leaving.

Here’s an experiment where a dog named Jazz expects the arrival of their owner just by using a keen sense of smell and the owner’s scent.

Can You Train Your Dog to Know the Time?

Well, if you want your dog to perform a three-minute sit-down drill, you can teach them if you give them proper training with positive reinforcements. Consistent training for duration makes your dog firm on the amount of passing time and anticipate it. However, you cannot teach your dog to instinctively judge what time of day it is. You can’t teach your dog to read watches either.

Can Dogs Follow a Scheduled Routine?

Yes, dogs can follow daily routines. Moreover, they know your routines even better than you. If you get up late at weekends, your dog will immediately buckle up for a walk like the rest of the weekdays. As a dog owner, you must have also noticed that your dog knows it right away when you’re going to your school or office. Start following a simple pattern of activities for your dog and wait for them to follow it. Then you can teach them to do even complicated tasks within time limits. This helps your dog to be a well-rounded companion with a designated routine.


In short, Dogs can’t judge the time of a day instinctively. They can instead judge time by habits and repetition of the same events every day. It’s not something like a digital watch that’s alarming them but it’s their neurons and logical explanation that guides them.

Thank you for reading the article.

To explore more, check out other articles covering everything on dogs and their cognitive abilities. 

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