Do Dogs Have A Concept Of Time?

Your dog might know when it's time for a w-a-l-k.

If your dog is anything like mine, he knows precisely when it's his dinner time, when it's time to go for a walk, and even when his favorite playmate—AKA dog dad—comes home. Can he really "tell" time?

"I've never met a dog that can read a clock, but anyone who owns a dog can confirm that their pet certainly seems to always know the exact time they are fed a meal," says Dr. Kristin Wuellner, practicing veterinarian and Hill's Pet Nutrition employee.

Do Dogs Have a Concept of Time?

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"Dogs definitely pick up on our daily routines and both our verbal and non-verbal cues very well, which leads us to the perception that they have an internal clock," she says.

So, Can Dogs Tell Time?

Researchers discovered that neurons in their brains are activated when dogs are in "waiting mode," anticipating one of their known activities like a walk or a meal. The brain's temporal lobe houses the neurons, where the researchers speculate the concept of time memory is stored. Dogs have a circadian rhythm, an internal sense that helps them know when to sleep and be active. It may be more advanced than we think. 

Scientists have also theorized that dogs could be sniffing time. The scent of their meal lingers for so long, and when it's gone, they know it's time for the meal to come again, for example.

Moreover, a large part of your dog's seeming ability to read the clock stems from his habits and repetition. Dogs are little robots, and if you feed them promptly at six and head out for a walk promptly at seven every day, they begin to anticipate when it's close to that time by what's happening in the home, by the light or shadows outside the house and with other cues, like their hunger or needs for exercise or a potty break.

Dr. Wuellner says dogs are very adept at picking up on our routines and communication, both verbal and non-verbal. "Similar to people, they also experience their own hunger and biological cues. I think the combination of our routine and their own needs is what makes dogs incredible time-keepers."

Should You Change A Dog's Feeding Or Walking Schedule?

While every dog is an individual and has their unique preferences, Dr. Wuellner says she typically recommends that pet owners try to stick to a routine as much as possible. "In my clinical experience, many dogs that exhibit anxious behaviors may benefit tremendously simply from having a normal daily schedule." As always, you should consult your vet with any questions regarding your dog's behavior.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Being Bored?

That said, you can still spice up your dog's daily routine by mixing it up in other ways. Try adding a wet food topper to mealtime, going to a new park, or varying your regular walk route. Even things like rotating their available toys can help your pet stay engaged and on his toes since he never knows what fun trick or treat you might pull on him.

Other ways to preoccupy your dog's daily routine include opening up the curtains or window blinds so they can "people watch" and enjoy the evolving outdoor scenery. A change in scenery can also include taking your dog to play with other furry friends at a playdate or doggy daycare. 

"I've always joked that my dog wears a wristwatch because his excitement for mealtime is always right on schedule," says Dr. Wuellner. Perhaps all our canine companions are sporting the same internal Timex.

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