Can Dogs Tell Time?

I figured it’d be fun to answer a question that a lot of people have. Can dogs, or all animals, tell time? The answer to this question… Yes! As a matter of fact, dogs and other animals can indeed tell time. Unbelievable? Well believe it. There have been numerous tests preformed that indicate that animals can, in fact, tell time. One of them you may have seen on t.v. last night on Animal Planet. A researcher did a study with bees where at precisely 3:35 every day he put out some nectar for the bees. Eventually, there were several bees that came to feed. While the bees fed, he painted their backs to identify them. The next day, at 3:35 the same bees arrived to feed.. on time! After awhile, he observed that some of those same bees.. arrived early, anticipating being fed. So they not only knew they’d be fed at 3:35, but they also knew that if they arrived early they wouldn’t have to fight other bees to be fed. Amazing!
There was a dog who learned that his master always arrived on the 5:30 train. So he’d meet his master at the train station. He would always get there just as the train was pulling into the station. He was as punctual and reliable as the train! One day however, he arrived and his master didn’t get off the train. He waited and waited, but what he didn’t know was that his master had been rushed to the hospital and had died. Every day for the rest of his life he was still at the train station at 5:30 to wait for his departed master.
Stories like these are not uncommon. As a matter of fact, we hear stories of dogs waiting at the door when they know their masters are due home. Some dogs even ask to go out to potty at the same time everyday. Others wake up at a certain time each morning and wake up their masters for work. They can be so reliable that their masters don’t even require an alarm clock!
They have a biological clock in their brain. We have it as well. According to the show, these biological clocks are cells deep with in the brain that produce enzymes, and then break down the enzymes with in a 24 hour period. So dogs just know what time of day it is. We on the other hand have become dependent on clocks.
Dogs can’t look at a clock and tell that it is 4:00 p.m. But they do know the events that usually occur at that particular time. Even if it is a trivial event to us, it triggers to the dog what time of day it is. For example, maybe the hot water heater makes that boiling sound the same time every day.
So there you have it! Dogs really can tell time! It all goes back to routine. Dogs are very sensitive to routine, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries. So the next time you come home late from work to find your pooch upset, it’s probably because you didn’t call to let him know you’d be late! LOL!

About thecanineguru

I am a canine behaviorist of 23 years and offer canine rehabilitation, training, and behavior change to clients under the given name "The Canine Guru." I am known mostly for my online presence through my blogs, Doggy Times and Doggy Times II. Both were honored by MSN Editors multiple times. My methodology focuses on energy and how to use and read it. I firmly believe in operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. I don't feel that choke, pinch, or electric collars are necessary when working with dogs. The harshest method I ever use is the squirt bottle and the occasional touch, or poke. I'm known for "speaking" to dogs in their own language using body language, energy, touch, and the occasional sound.
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11 Responses to Can Dogs Tell Time?

  1. Sharon says:

    Brandon the time thing is absolutely true. Ginger not oly knows when I’m going to work and arriving home, she seems to know how long my errand trips usually are and is waiting at the window. I think dogs like routine, it makes them feel secure. PS: I have Ginger dancing on her hind legs with me when I put on music. She’s not doing it on command yet, but she’s having so much fun.

  2. Claudia says:

    So true… anyone who has ever had a dog or a cat can confirm that. I had 2 cornish rex cats several years ago, and they woke up everyday at the same time. And when the clock was changed either in spring or fall, they followed the time from the previous days for several days as a matter of fact. My greyhound girls are the same way. The start to bark if their meal time is delayed by even 5 minutes. There’s no tricking them.Bye for now.

  3. Denise says:

    So your saying your dog can tell time and knows how long your away. How long its been stuck in a crate. If a dog is placed in it’s crate for 8 hours…it knows it’s been there for 8 hours?

  4. Brandon Ross says:

    Denise, you are thinking about it in the wrong way. No, the dog may not know that it’s been there for 8 hours. But he does know what time of day it is and what events will occur at certain times within that day. So say a dog is let out at a certain time everyday, because dogs are big on routines, they will know when it’s time to go out. So if their human forgets to let them out at that time, they will try and remind him or her that they need to go out. They don’t know what the clock says, or the amount of time that has past. They simply know that it is time for an event to occur, and they only learn this through repetition.

  5. alexandra says:

    No. Three things are happening here;One: Bio-rhythms, two is instinct three is Classical conditioning.Bio-rhythms are something everybody has. we have up and down moments throughout the day, and even without an alarm clock, if we repeatedly set our alarm for it to wake us up at six o’clock in the morning, our biorhythms very quickly take over, and we find ourselves waking up at that time, without a clock. We are the only animals on the planet who have willfully adjusted our eating patterns to eat three times a day. Other animals graze or hunt when they need to, or are hungry. We are the only ones who set our meal times. And our rhythms have adjusted accordingly…. So if you feed, or walk your dog or get home at a specific time during the day, his bio-rhythms will tell it him that it’s now time to eat, or walk. Or for you to get home…. he also relies on his instincts: Dogs don’t talk. They have a language of their own, but they can’t speak English, German or any other language for that matter, even though they become accustomed to certain sounds, chiefly because we associate these sounds (Walkies! sit! Stay! Down!) with gestures we use, our tone of voice, or any accessories, such a a coat, or a leash. so they rely mainly on body language as an indication of what is happening, and their instincts are a lot better than ours, because they rely on them more. A dog can tell when you’re going to go for your coat and the leash, or heading for the kitchen, by your body language. We can do this too, sometimes. "I knew – I just knew you were going to do that!" we say, as we pre-empt somebody’s actions. "How?" they ask. "I dunno, I just did." It’s called instinct, and we use it far less than animals do….You then have classical conditioning.Going back to giving your dog set meals, or walks, if you inadvertently or unconsciously always do something specific, before following through with d=feeding/the walk, the dog will become conditioned to associating this action, with feeding/walking.Let’s say you have a routine. you’re a writer, and you work at your PC every day, until three PM. And at three PM, you take off your glasses, lay them on the desk, and rising, you say "right, Fido, shall we go?"The whole action of what you just did, is a trigger to the dog that whatever follows, is about to happen. The moment you remove your glasses, he knows you’re about to say something (remember, he doesn’t understand vocabulary per se, just sounds) and you’re going to get up. That’s all the signal he needs. So there you have it. Bi-rhythms, Instinct and conditioning.All are ways in which Fido knows exactly what time it is. Alex Parker.Dog behaviourist.

  6. Ross Lander says:

    How do you account for dogs doing things at pre-appointed, NON-REGULAR times?
    Sally, my German Shepherd, was given me when she was 10 mths old and I was a bachelor with no regular timetable. Before I left for work, I would think aloud and ‘tell her’ what time I would be home. I soon noticed marked differences in the ways she greeted me when I arrived home. A little late, she would act ‘miffed’, a bit ‘huffy’. Terribly late, she would be frantic! On-time, or a little early and she would be her normal happy self. A lot early and she would look amazed!
    She was with me as I readied for bed and set the alarm. Varying times each day, never for Sunday. She slept in the laundry/utility room, but was back by my bed when the alarm sounded. So, for a week, I set the alarm 5 minutes late. At the appointed times, Sally put a paw on my shoulder I quit using the alarm. She never failed me. I have met 2 other people who had German Shepherds that did the same.
    If I forgot to tell her what time to wake me, she would wait by my bed until I did.
    She knew I would wake myself for Church on Sundays, so didn’t expect any instruction on Saturday nights.
    When her first litter of pups were 5 weeks old, I told her before I left for work that I would be back at 4.30 to take her and her pups to the vet. I got back at 4.15. Pups at home, no sign of Sally. I walked the neighbourhood looking for her, then sat on my front steps. When she arrived home, it was exactly 4.30.
    On Sunday evenings at Daylight Saving changeovers, I would tell her “We will be doing things 1 hour later/earlier from now.”.
    One autumn Sunday evening, after a really hectic week, I told her not to wake me the next day. On Monday evening, I forgot to tell her about Daylight Saving changeover. I just said wake me at 6.30, please. She woke me at the right time!
    Our Church has a Fast Day 1st Sunday each month. One Fast Sunday I forgot and started getting breakfast. Sally got upset. I wondered why. The more I continued with breakfast, the more upset she became. When I realised and put away my food, she calmed down! She knew the time of day, day of the week, week of the month.
    I left her at a boarding kennels when I left for a 4-week holiday, telling her when I would pick her up. The attendant looked at me as though she thought I was loony! People don’t talk to dogs like that! The same attendant was on duty when I returned. She said that Sally was the most calm dog they had ever had, and she had influenced all the other dogs to be calm. Sally had become excited the morning of the day I was to pick her up in the evening. The attendant said Sally must be able to understand time.
    I waited in the food preparation room while she went to get Sally. When she walked in, she was groggy, having just woken up. When she saw me, she let out a little squeal and jumped 10 ft across the room into my arms and hugged me around the neck!
    She is gone now. I miss her, and miss her most in the mornings, when the alarm goes.

  7. spencer says:

    when a dogs owner comes home everyday at the same time, the dogs body temperature raises at the same time everyday. its an interal biological act made by repetition. the body tells the dog to get up. they arent thinking dawn, dusk, noon, “were u an hour late?” they just do whats instinctive. i can go on a 2 day vacation or a 2 week vacaation and the dog will barely tell the diference

  8. Jenn says:

    Hi, I was wondering if their body clock can be altered or dependent on the sun…as in if they are usually fed in summer at 6 and then in winter when the sun sets earlier will they want to be fed earlier?

    • That is a good question. The theory, however, is that dogs rely more heavily on the daily routine rather than the sun position. Dogs are incredibly observant of their surroundings. So the tiniest detail (such as when the water heater turns on) can alert dogs to what time of day it is. Some dogs are better at this than others, but all dogs rely on a daily routine.

  9. Albert Rossi says:

    My Doberman Charlie not only knows what time of day it is, he knows WHAT day it is. I go out on my neighbourhood watch on a Thursday from 11am till 12noon. Every Thursday, about 10.50am, he will come to me with a “are we going now?” expression on his face and will follow me from then on till we go. Although I’ve heard of this phenomena before I never thought that it would be possible on a weekly cycle but the strangest thing is that he still knows it’s Thursday even if I’ve missed a couple of patrols. Some as long as three weeks because of holidays or some other reasons yet he still knows it’s Thursday and almost 11am..

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