Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time?

Dogs are rightly recognized as mans' best friends due to their unquestionable loyalty and affable character.

But as a result, it can sometimes be easy to forget just how different the minds of these animals can be to the humans in the household.

And while there is anecdotal evidence to suggest canines do have a perception of time, the reality may be a little more complicated than first thought.

So do dogs have a sense of time, or is it a mere coincidence they often realize when dinner is ready? Newsweek asked the experts.

Do Dogs Have a Concept of Time?

Scientists understand dogs and other animals have implicit, or unconscious, memory.

The well-known Pavlov's Dogs experiments best illustrate how dogs boast implicit memory when they associate getting food with certain triggers, such as a bell ringing.

However, this is thought insufficient to prove dogs have an explicit memory.

Dr. Mary Burch, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and American Kennel Club (AKC) Family Dog Director, believes while dogs have a sense of time, they probably lack a "concept of time."

She told Newsweek: "For years, when I went on vacation, I would board my dogs. Being separated from the dogs I loved always spoiled the relaxing vacation for me.

"I spent a great deal of time worrying about what my dogs were thinking. 'Is she coming back?' 'It's been a week—this is horrible—how long do I have to stay here?'

Dogs Have a Sense of Time
There is a scientific reason why pets dog apparently anticipate when dinnertime is imminent. standret/Getty Images

"I told a well-respected veterinarian this, and she said it was her belief that dogs did not mark time."

"They had no idea when being boarded if they were there for three days or three weeks."

"In the long run, I don't know if dogs mark three days or three weeks and most behaviorists will say the internal canine clock does not work like this."

What is more certain is that canines have no concept of the future. However, the AKC's Dr. Burch remains convinced "they have an amazing sense of time" with regard to their schedules and daily activities.

One study found pets left home alone for longer periods greeted their owners more enthusiastically than dogs who were left alone for shorter stretches.

Dogs Have a Sense of Time
Although pet dogs have a sense of time, they most likely lack a "concept" of time. Fly_dragonfly/Getty Images

Do Dogs Understand Time?

That suggests dogs can differentiate whether their owners have only just returned from a 10-minute task or from a full day at the office.

Dr. Burch added: "I took my dog for a walk every day at 6:00 p.m. and without fail, within a short amount of time, once we started this routine, my dog would show up in my office within three minutes of 6:00 to go for that walk.

"The behavioral issue of separation anxiety is somewhat related to time. Even though dogs may not be thinking of the passage of minutes, as they are alone for an increasing number of minutes, they may become more anxious.

"The most effective treatment for separation anxiety involves stepping outside for only a second or two, and immediately returning.

"Over time, the length of time the owner is gone is gradually increased until the dog feels comfortable being alone."

Dogs Have a Sense of Time
Dogs appear live very much in the present and have a far less nuanced sense of time. Dmytro Varavin/Getty Images