Can Dogs Tell Time?
Tick tock! 🕐
Have you noticed your dog seems to be begging for dinner at the exact time you plan to feed him?
This seemingly psychic behavior might have you wondering: Can dogs tell time?
We spoke with Katie Johnson, a veterinary nurse with DodoVet, to find out just how your pup seems to know exactly what time it is.
Can dogs tell time the same way people do?
Dogs can tell time, believe it or not, just not in the same way people do.
“You won't catch them counting minutes or checking the clock on the wall,” Johnson told The Dodo.
It might be more accurate to say dogs can sense time.
“Dogs tell time with their amazing sense of smell, circadian rhythm, and — more recently discovered — can judge time with neurons in the medial entorhinal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with navigation and memories,” Johnson said.
How do dogs tell time?
Johnson breaks down how your dog’s sense of smell, circadian rhythm and brain help him tell time.
Johnson explains that dogs use odors to tell time, referencing the book “Being A Dog: Following The Dog Into A World Of Smell” by cognitive scientist and canine researcher Alexandra Harowitz.
“Horowitz believes that a dog's day is marked by tenuous shifts of smell in their environments,” Johnson said. “Dogs ‘tell time’ with their noses by determining new or recent smells and differentiating them between older smells that were laid much earlier in the day or even week.”
For example, your dog can even determine how long you’ve been gone through his sense of smell.
“When you leave the house in the morning, your smell is at its strongest, [and] while you're gone your smell slowly dissipates through the day,” Johnson said. “Your dog can learn to use this as a timer for how long you're gone during the day, and even when to expect you home in the evening.”
If you want to learn more about how this works, you can give Harowitz’s book a read.
When it seems like your dog knows exactly when dinnertime is, that’s most likely because of his circadian rhythm.
“Your circadian rhythm is the body's natural process that regulates your waking and sleeping schedule by using light,” Johnson said.
The daily events in your pup’s life, especially the ones done consistently at a certain time every day, almost teach him what time it is. So basically, your dog’s telling time with his biological clock instead of an actual clock.
“When a dog is fed on a schedule every day, their body learns that this is ‘meal time,’” Johnson said. “You'll find your pet will be hungry during these periods, and they will be sure to remind you because their body is letting them know that it's time to eat.”
Medial entorhinal cortex
According to a 2018 study, mice can use their memory to judge how long something’s going to take. By extension, researchers believe other animals (like dogs) can do the same.
“Until recently, it was unknown if dogs had what is known as episodic memory, which allows us to consciously recollect personal experience,” Johnson said. “It was discovered that mammals such as mice and dogs aren't so much telling time as they are judging time using ‘timing cells’ in the brain's medial entorhinal cortex when at rest.”
So there you have it — dogs can tell time in a few different ways. Which means now you know why your pup always seems ready for dinner at exactly the right time.
Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here