Do Dogs Have A Sense Of Time?

do dogs have a sense of time

Do dogs have a sense of time, or is it just luck that they seem to realise when dinner is just around the corner? Dogs do have a sense of time, but it isn’t quite like ours. Evidence suggests that dogs do not organize time into hours and weeks. But they do appreciate the passing of time in their own unique way. In fact, some of the senses they use to do this are pretty surprising and remarkable – imagine being able to smell time!


In this article we are going to look at what scientific studies have discovered about how dogs sense the passage of time, and help you to understand how your dog might feel as the minutes turn into hours.

Dogs and sense of time

Perhaps you’ve done it as you leave your own dog alone in the house when you go for a long day out? Many dog owners wonder if their best friends have a sense of time and miss them when they’re not home. What is a dog’s concept of time and how is it different from how humans perceive time?

It turns out that while dogs have no concept of time in the way that humans have constructed measurements of it (hours, days, weeks, etc.), they do understand the passing of time in their own unique way!

The key to understanding how dogs and other animals understand the passing of time is to learn about how they process memories. Sense of time is connected to memory. It’s common for humans with memory loss (such as Alzheimer’s disease or amnesia) to have an impaired or distorted perception of time.

Memory and sense of time

Humans have two types of memories. Implicit memory is a kind of unconscious memory; knowing how to ride a bicycle is often given as an example of implicit memory. Explicit memory is more complex and involves conscious thought about our knowledge and experiences. Examples include remembering things we learned in school, or what we did on our last birthday.

What about dogs?

Scientists know that dogs and many other animals have implicit, or unconscious, memory. The famous Pavlov’s Dogs experiments are said to show that dogs have implicit memory when they associate getting food with certain triggers, like the ringing of a bell.

But do dogs have explicit memory?

That’s a harder question to answer, but research has shown that some non-human animals seem to have a degree of explicit memory. Besides our closest primate relatives, researchers have found evidence of explicit memory in other animals like rats, some birds, and dogs. Studies suggest that animals can be especially good at remembering things that are biologically significant to them. Such as where they have stored a cache of food that they intend to eat later.

do dogs have a sense of time

Episodic memory in dogs

One recent study has shown that dogs may have a type of explicit memory known as episodic memory. Episodic memory can be described as remembering certain events in your life.

In the study, dogs were taught to imitate human actions. They were then asked to perform those actions after time intervals ranging from one minute to one hour, which they did successfully. The authors suggest that this ability to recall specific actions demonstrates episodic memory in dogs.

Do dogs have a sense of time?

Dogs do not understand clock time or calendar time in the same way that we do, but they do have some perception of the passing of time that is unique to them.

There have been some studies of dogs’ perception of time. While sense of time has not been as widely studied as other areas of canine cognition, a few key studies have been done.

Your dogs’ perception of time?

One of the most famous studies on dogs’ sense of time was published in 2011. Dogs with no history of separation anxiety were left home alone for varying periods of time. Data was collected on the dogs’ behavior and heart rate during these times.

The researchers found that the longer the dogs were separated from their owners, the more intense their physical response was to the return of their owners. Being left alone for two hours or more triggered the dogs’ excitement at the owners’ return. The authors concluded that dogs are affected by the length of time they are alone.

But before you start feeling guilty for leaving your dog alone during the day, it’s important to note that the researchers saw no evidence of distress while the dogs were alone. Their increased activity came after reuniting with their owners.

How do dogs know what time it is?

Your dog seems to know when it’s time for dinner or to go to the park. Recent research suggests that their extraordinary sense of smell plays a very big part in dogs’ perception of time.

What does smell have to do with time?

Alexandra Horowitz, founder of the Dog Cognition Lab at the Barnard College of Columbia University, wrote a fascinating book called Being a Dog based on her ongoing canine research. Horowitz states that dogs can literally smell time. A dog’s keen sense of smell allows it to process changes in odors as time passes.

What kinds of time changes can a dog smell?

Dogs can sense the changes in the air. For example, hot air rises over the course of an afternoon. They can also interpret the intensity of smells in terms of the passage of time. A strong smell indicates a recent event, while a weak smell means that the event occurred further in the past.

Dogs can even perceive the future through smell! Imagine taking your dog for a walk and the scent of another dog around the corner comes to him on the breeze. Before the other dog is visible, your dog knows it’s coming.

One dog’s sense of time

Dogs don’t understand how we have organized time into units of measurement. But dogs have a perception of time that makes sense to them. A simple experiment seems to prove that the dog senses the owner’s upcoming arrival time by the fading scent of the man over the course of the day.

This connection between scent and time makes sense given the importance of smell to a dog. The dog in the video goes to the door to wait for his owner after his scent fades to a certain level. Knowing that he will return soon.

No doubt we’ll learn more about how dogs perceive time as further research is conducted by scientists. Studies using MRI scans of dogs’ brains are becoming more common and could lead to even more fascinating discoveries. One final note about dogs’ sense of time…what about our grey-muzzled friends?

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

Do senior dogs lose their sense of time?

Dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may shows signs of disorientation. And changes in the sleep wake cycle that make it seem like their memory and sense of time is impaired. Cognitive decline in older dogs is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. In fact, older dogs have been found to have the same amyloid plaques in the brain as humans with Alzheimer’s.

These plaques can lead to problems with learning, impaired memory, spatial disorientation, and wandering behavior. It is likely that senior dogs’ perception of time can be affected by cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

Do Dogs Have A Sense Of Time?

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. I have a Spanish Water dog and had an early morning cleaning job, mainly so that I would not be away from the dogs too long. My daughter who is in her twenties, noticed that if I was not home by 10.10am. Then the dog would look at her whine, then look at the clock, then look back at her. My daughter was convinced that the dog knew how to read the time on the clock. She acts the same if my husband is late home in the evening. My Labrador knows 10 minutes before my husband arrives home she starts pacing. I can put the kettle on and have a cup of tea waiting for him when he comes through the door. They know that 1pm is toilet time and they will pace and whine to go outside. Tea time is 5.30pm and the dogs bark for their tea. Breakfast is 5.30am weekdays and to them it is the same at the weekend. So yes dogs do understand time, just not weekends 🙂

  2. I have a English Bulldog which I have taken to my moms every morning on my way to work… I pick her up every afternoon on my way home… and about a hour or two before I get there she starts sitting beside the glass door looking out the door waiting on me to pull up…. I feel she has some sense of time to a certain degree… maybe ?? 😏😏

  3. As far as knowing the difference between a few minutes and a few hours, maybe it depends partially on the breed? My dog’s reaction to my walking through the door is the same whether I’ve been gone 10 minutes or 2 hours. I don’t think she has any concept of time.

  4. I question if dogs have a sense of time because my red setters seem just as excited to come in the house from the outside run after 5 minutes or two hours. Although when we have been gone for days, it takes them a day to return to the routine. One dog will not sleep in the crate the first night; whines and scratches the door, but on the second night and thereafter, she is content in the crate all night.

  5. Our Mattie, 14 year old mixed breed, is fed 4 times a day because of stomache issues. She also gets treats several times a day at a scheduled time (yeah, we spoil her). She comes looking for us if we aren’t headed toward the pantry at the appointed time.
    She will also awaken from sleep. It’s like clockwork. Rarely off by more than 2 minutes, and often right on the dot.

  6. Our Yellow Lab knows when it is bed time. Every night between 8:30 pm & 9:00 pm he starts getting agitated and mouthing at our hands to take him to his crate which is in our bedroom. We also have trained him where he will go around and give everyone that is still up a good night kiss before he goes to bed.

  7. Fascinating, thank you. A lovely old Lab I had many years ago would wait at the back gate, regardless of weather, every evening on work days. However, if I went home at lunchtime, he’d be fast asleep in his basket. Mid-evening, he’d go to bed but if I was still sitting at the computer after 10.30, he’d put his head round the kitchen door. My current girl, not known nothing as The Diva, wakes ahead of the alarm and whinges at the foot of the stairs – or outside my room if I don’t push the stair-guard to, for her breakfast, which has a higher priority than spending a penny. Later in the day, any time from about 4.30 onwards, she starts to pester for her afternoon/evening outing.

  8. I have a 3month old labrabull and she love people, she is very friendly and she is a very happy dog that love to play and be outside in the yard