What time is it, Mr Dog?

November 6, 2020

We feel guilty leaving our dogs home alone. But are they conscious of passing time?

He sits in the window staring at you when you leave the house in the morning. He’s back, at the same window, in the evening when you get home. In the afternoon, he’s there to watch the school bus arrive at exactly the right time. But we’re told that dogs “aren’t conscious of time”. If this was the case, how come they seem so punctual?

According to a study discussed in Moderndog, your dog’s punctuality is rooted in his or her circadian clock. This internal clock, which runs on a 24-hour cycle, is regulated by factors including luminosity, the household’s routines and the animal’s hormonal fluctuations. In people, it’s the same clock that wakes us up early on the weekends (when we would probably have preferred to sleep in) and makes our stomachs rumble at more or less noon every day. Your dog’s concept of time is mostly grounded in your daily routines, which are a lot more predictable than you might think.

Aside from his circadian clock, Fido is also equipped with some other notions of time. According to a study by the researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, there is a correlation between the intensity of a dog’s greeting of their owner and the duration of time the dog was left alone. On greeting their owners, dogs’ tail movements were larger, pulse more accelerated, and lip licking greater, when they were left alone for 2 hours compared to 30 minutes. Lest we forget … in our absence, that’s what a dog does: waits.

Does this mean that your dog is conscious of passing time? Not exactly. According to the same study, it’s clear that Fido is affected by our departure. However, researchers can’t tell if he is truly conscious of being alone during our absence. He may, in fact, understand that he is alone up until the moment … we return.

Whatever your dog’s understanding of time: let’s admit it, few people have such an enthusiastic home greeting as those who live with a dog!


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