Do Dogs Have A Sense Of Time?
Listen To This Blog Instead
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes
Summary: In this blog, we learn all about a dog’s sense of time. We’ll find out how dogs perceive time, how their's varies in complexity to a human’s and we’ll learn how dog time is actually connected to memory and smell…
Time Is Connected To Memory
Like ours, a dog’s sense of time is connected to memory. Humans have two types of memory: implicit and explicit. An example of implicit memory would be something like how to make a cup of coffee or ride a bike and explicit memory is things like what we did for Thanksgiving last year or what we learned in school.
If a human experiences memory loss (whether this is due to dementia or a condition like an amnesia), this usually goes hand in hand with a distorted perception of time too.
Unlike us, dogs only have implicit and episodic memory which means they remember how to perform commands and where to go to the toilet, but are only able to remember distinct events in their life. For example, your dog may remember you leaving the house, but they won’t be able to process exactly how long it’s been.
A Dog’s Sense Of Time
That said, a famous 2011 study on a dog’s perception of time revealed that the longer a dog was separated from their owner, the more intense their response was to their return which meant the researchers could conclude that dogs are affected by the amount of time they’re left alone. However, it’s worth noting that these dogs didn’t display signs of distress whilst their owner was gone: their response was solely triggered by their master's return.
Interestingly, though it’s been established a dog’s memory is connected with time, it’s been theorized that so has a dog’s sense of smell and how intense a scent is! A dog can interpret the intensity of a scent to work out how much time has passed. The stronger a smell is, the more recently an event occurred. So, if you left the house a few hours prior, your dog will know it’s been a while because your scent will have diminished in the house.
This is why it’s sometimes helpful for dogs with separation anxiety to leave a worn item of clothing in their bed when you go so they are comforted by believing that even though they can’t see you, they can smell you strongly and thus believe you’re close by.
For dog’s that experience separation anxiety, it can also be advisable when you go out to leave music playing or the television on, to make sure they can see outside, ensure they have lots of toys to play with, and/or invest in placing them in an ethical, well-reputed doggy daycare or to hire a properly vetted, trusted sitter to come and visit them at your house.
Senior Dogs And Time
Senior canines may develop a condition called CCD (canine cognitive dysfunction) which is often referred to as “doggy dementia”, although it’s dissimilar in many ways from our experience of dementia as humans.
CCD often affects a dog’s memory, spatial awareness, learning and is exhibited with symptoms like disturbed sleep patterns, disorientation, and seeming confused. Therefore, we can assume that a dog with CCD will also have a distorted perception of time when compared to a dog without CCD. Read our blog on CCD In Dogs to learn more about the condition and how best to support a dog living with it.
Author Hertz, Lisa “Do Dogs Have A Sense of Time?” The Labrador Site, Jun 30. 2018 https://www.thelabradorsite.com/do-dogs-have-a-sense-of-time/
“Do Dogs Have A Sense Of Time?”, I And Love And You, Nov 12. 2020 https://iandloveandyou.com/blogs/pet-blog/do-dogs-have-a-sense-of-time