Can Dogs Tell Time?

Can Dogs Tell Time?

Dogs know when it is time to eat and start begging at the same time every day, like clockwork.

But is it due to habit and routine or do they really know how to tell time?

It seems dogs also know when we will be returning home.

Have you noticed that your dog greets you with a wagging tail and sloppy kisses every time you come home? Do they just love us so much that they wait by the door for us to return, or do they know what time we usually come home?

These are things dog owners have been wondering about for a while.

The answer is yes dogs can tell time, but not in the same way as we do.

 width= Photo: Unsplash/Sebastian Coman Travel

Circadian Rhythm

Dogs don't need a watch or clock to tell them what time it is instead they rely on their internal clock, the circadian rhythm system.

This 24-hour cycle controlled by sunlight helps animals figure out when it is time to eat, sleep, and much more. Dogs learn to tell time based on interactions between their circadian rhythm and environment throughout the day, which is known as entrainment.

Lynne Nelson, a veterinarian and researcher at Washington State University, explained, "Dogs are training their brains based on different events, like owners coming home or when the food is going to come out."

Dogs learn through repetition so in a way humans have taught dogs how to tell time.

Nelson went on to say, "All these things are entrained based on certain genes that control the development of different traits, as well as wiring in our brains." This happens all on its own without us knowing, fascinating!

Dogs Don't Tell Time But Rather Judge Time

There are very few studies on this topic but one published in Nature Neuroscience believes dogs are able to measure time.

The study performed by researchers at Northwestern University found that dogs cannot tell time but rather judge time when they are waiting for an expected outcome.

"Researchers at Northwestern University’s Department of Neurobiology found evidence that previously unknown neurons in an animal’s brain are activated when the animal is in waiting mode. The neurons are located in an area of the brain’s temporal lobe where we know that spatial memory is encoded," reported American Kennel Club.

This discovery and a study on mice led researchers to hypothesize that this area in the brain measures time.


One of the things we admire most about dogs is how they are able to live carefree and in the moment. They don't stress about the time or what happened five minutes ago. They enjoy the little things in life, like snuggling with their humans.

While dogs learn things from watching humans, we can learn way more by watching them.

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Andrea Powell

Andrea Powell is an animal enthusiast who resides in West Michigan. When not writing, she is exploring the great outdoors with her dogs and horses.

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