Do Dogs Understand Time?

cute pembroke welsh corgi dogs lying in bed with alarm clock at home

Many pawrents notice that their dogs have an uncanny sense of when a certain activity is about to happen, such as when they are about to leave for the grocery store or when it is time for their pup to receive a mid-afternoon snack. These incidents seem to indicate that pups do have some concept of time.


Research suggests that dogs have an understanding of time, but it differs how humans perceive time. Humans have an episodic memory and our concept of time is linked to days, hours, and minutes. We have the ability to recall past experiences in our lives and ponder about future events. Our perception of time includes the past, present, and future; however, research performed at the University of Kentucky suggests that “Dogs are capable of being trained based on past events and taught to anticipate future events based on past experiences. This argues in favor of a kind of canine version of episodic memory.” Regardless, dogs are extraordinarily aware of their humans and environment.

Both humans and animals have an internal biological clock, also known as circadian rhythm, which notifies us when we should sleep and wake up. Generally, dogs seem to get an idea when it is time to wake up and go to sleep based on the sun’s natural patterns.

Dogs learn commands and are able to connect certain events through associative memory. Their memory is associated with certain smells, specific noises, and movements among other things. They may recall you always grabbing a piece of gum before deciding to take them on walk. You may command them to sit by using a low voice and raising your right hand, all the while having a treat in your pocket. Or perhaps they wait anxiously by the front door for your partner’s arrival home after noticing you do a specific activity.

Remarkable Sense of Smell

Dogs may have a perception of time thanks to their keen sense of smell. It has been suggested that dogs may have some understanding of time based on their owner’s scent diminishing in their environment while their owners are away. When you first leave, your scent is at its strongest, and gradually it fades throughout your home as the day wears on. Your pup may learn when you will likely return based on how faded your scent is in your home, particularly if you follow a regular schedule. This suggests that dogs have the ability to understand how long their pawrents are gone.

While more research is needed, it seems apparent that dogs have a grasp on time. Dogs seem to live in the moment but are not entirely bound to the present. They seem to have an understanding about how much time has passed since a previous event took place and are very reliant on environmental “context clues”; so much so that pawrents sometimes find their behavior slightly eerie. Regardless whether dogs do have a strong concept of time, many pawrents often find themselves running on their pup’s schedule.

Do you believe your dog understands the concept of time? Comment your thoughts below!

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