Have you ever wondered if your dog knows how long you've been gone? 

Or have you noticed that your dog misses you more when you've been gone a long time and wondered if dogs have a sense of time?

It seems like dogs can sense time, based on how they always know when you're coming home from work or leaving for the day. 

But does your dog sense time the way that humans do? 

Or is there something else going on? 

Do dogs have a sense of time, and if so, how does it work?

If they do, how do dogs perceive time?

Do Dogs Have A Sense of Time? How They Sense and Understand Time

Circadian Rhythm in Dogs

Dogs, like humans, can tell the normal daylight to dusk and nighttime to daytime cycles. 

They have a Circadian rhythm, much as humans do. 

This inner instinct tells them when it's daylight or nightfall and tells the dog when he should be awake and when he should be asleep.

So, do dogs have a sense of time because of the Circadian rhythm? 

Not really. 

Circadian rhythm isn't why your dog cannot tell when you are due from work or how much time has passed during the day.

Is your dog telling time? 

Scientists believe that even though it looks like your dog is reading the clock, it uses its senses to figure out patterns.

A Dog’s Senses

Do Dogs Sense Time

We already know that dogs have a perfect sense of smell and a great sense of hearing. 

They can smell and hear things that some other species can't. 

They can use those senses to determine your behavior patterns, and they are human. 

So the honest answer to whether dogs have a sense of time is “kind of,” but it does not work the way you think it does.

Some studies indicate that when a dog knows when you will get home from work, the dog isn't reading the clock. 

Instead, the dog uses highly attuned senses of hearing and smell to figure out that you are approaching.

For example, your pup may hear the unique sound of your car door or your steps approaching, even if you are far away. 

That tells the animal that you are on the way home long before you put the key in the lock. 

And because the dog heard you coming, he's ready and waiting at the door, anxious to say hello.

Dogs also use their senses to determine patterns for things like when it's time to eat when it's time to go for a walk, and other activities. 

Even though it might seem like the dog is reacting to the time of the day, he's figuring out your pattern of behavior based on other sensory input. 

You do little things without thinking your puppy will hear, see and smell and create associations based on those behaviors.

For example, if you take your canine for a walk at 4 PM each day, just before 4 PM, the dog might start barking, circling, or indicating that they know it's time for a walk. 

But the dog isn't reacting to the time on the clock. 

He's reacting to sensory input. You might glance at the clock, pick up the leash, or subconsciously give off other clues that you're about to take your pet outside. 

That's how your furry companion knows that one of the best times of the day – the walk – is coming.

Do dogs have a sense of time in any capacity? 

Not really. 

Dogs don't tell time much as they read all the available data and use it to find patterns. 

But from the human perspective, it looks like your companion can tell time.

ALSO READ: 13 Common “Why Does My Dog” Questions Answered


Do Dogs Miss Their Owners

Episodic Memory in Dogs

All the research on how dogs perceive time indicates that dogs have the capacity for a type of episodic memory system

They can remember past events and use those events to predict future behavior.

For example, if your dog sees you get dog treats out of a canister on the counter, he will remember that and successfully predict that you will take treats out of the canister on the counter in the future.

But dogs don't have the same external construct of time as humans. 

They don't think of time in units like humans using seconds, minutes, and hours to construct the sense of time passing. 

From the perspective of thinking of time in those units, dogs cannot understand time or have a sense of time.

But our loyal pals have their unique way of predicting and understanding patterns. 

They use those and their version of episodic memory to predict human behavior and key in on patterns like when their human leaves for work and comes home from work. 

Or when it's time to eat or go outside for a walk.

Does Your Dog Miss You?

Dog Waiting for Owner

Most will be curious, do dogs have a sense of time because they wonder if the dog will miss the owner. 

But the issue of whether or not your pup misses you when you're gone is a separate one from whether or not dogs can tell time.

Of course, your dog misses you when you leave. 

But studies have shown that dogs respond differently to their owners being gone when the owners are gone for different amounts of time. 

For example, in studies, dogs only missed their owners a little bit when the owners had been gone for just 30 minutes.

But when the owners had been gone for two hours, the dogs missed the owners a lot more than they did after just 30 minutes.

Most studies found that the dogs' anticipation of reuniting with the owner leveled off after two hours. 

The level of excitement at the owner's return was the same at the four-hour mark as at two hours. 

So, if you've gone more than two hours, your dog will miss you the same amount as they did when you had been gone two hours, according to researchers (although some pet owners may argue that case strongly).

Do Dogs Have A Sense of Time

Do Dogs Have a Sense of Time? In Summary

With that said, do dogs have a sense of time?

Also, how do dogs perceive time?

From our perspective and how we understand the passing of time – no, dogs do not have a sense of time. 

They have a Circadian rhythm that tells them when to sleep or be awake, but they do not understand that a certain amount of “time” has passed.

Instead, dogs use their keen sense of smell and hearing to figure out patterns, which can sometimes seem that a dog understands the passing of time. 

Dogs do miss their owners, however, and time matters (to an extent) in that as well.

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Kristina has graduated with a Master's degree in Psychology over five years ago, and since been researching and writing about animal sciences and dog training. Her main goal is to present the most truthful science-based information to as many pet owners out there as possible.