Can Your Dog Tell Time?


Photo by J. Nichole Smith |

Are dogs capable of telling time? This question has long been debated in the scientific world as well as in the dog training world.

Many dog owners have experienced their dog's ability to seemingly recognize when it's dinnertime or time to go for a walk. But are dogs truly able to understand time in the same way that we do? And if so, how do they do it?

Researchers break up the concept of memory into two types: implicit and declarative memory. Implicit memory allows humans and non-human animals to repeat tasks that have been accomplished in the past, such as the muscle memory involved in riding a bike.

But scientists have not determined if dogs are capable of declarative memory, and more specifically episodic memory, or the ability to recall contextual information about past events. This involves understanding what occurred, when it occurred, and where it occurred. Studies have shown that primates are capable of this type of memory, but whether or not dogs have this ability has not yet been determined.

So can your dog tell time? 

There are several hypotheses about a dog's apparent time-telling behaviors. The first is that dogs simply follow their circadian rhythm, which tells their bodies when to sleep and when to be awake.

Another explanation involves scent. Scientists believe that a dog may be able to tell how soon you will come home based on how long your scent lingers in your house after you leave.

Dogs are incredibly adept at reading environmental cues. Even a small clue, such as the length of a shadow, can be an indicator of the time of day.

As more research is being done on the cognitive and emotional abilities of dogs, perhaps this age-old question will finally be answered.

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3 thoughts on “Can Your Dog Tell Time?

  1. Kathy Kirtson Glick

    As an owner of two blue Weimaraners, I must say that they definitely know how to tell time -- they don't let me forget what time to get up (even though I'm retired), and they definitely don't let me serve their breakfast or dinner late! LOL (Nice looking grey Weim as the picture for this article; of course, I may be partial 😉 )

  2. Thomasina Stevens

    I definitely believe dogs can tell time. I am a dog walker and many of my clients report that at a certain point in the late morning their dog will begin a watch at the window, or wait at the door in anticipation of my arrival. This happens regardless of whether or not their owners are home. Also, the dogs I walk definitely recognize roads or trail heads of places we have walked at before, even if months have passed. They know where they are, and when.

  3. Sheri Elmont

    My Bichon, Sassy can tell time. At 8:30 PM she gets her treat ball with some dry food in it. Not sure how it started. She of course tries to get it before then and I'll tell her she has to wait half an hour. I know she understands "wait" but she also does wait the 30 minutes, or whatever the time is I tell her. It's not 100% but has been right on enough times to catch my attention.

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