Dogs are clever, sure, but can they tell the time? Probably not in the sense of strapping a wristwatch on and knowing what to do with it, but as for knowing when it’s dinner, breakfast, or lunchtime, it sure seems like it. How else would they come to be standing by their bowl with an expectant look at the same time each day? Likewise with walks. Somehow or other, they always seem to know the precise time you’ll be taking out the leash. But how do they do it? Are they so in tune with the earth’s movements they can gage the time just by checking the position of the sun in the sky? Or are they so connected with our movements, they’re able to predict our next one? As it turns out, it’s a bit of both. If you’ve ever wondered how your dog knows it’s time for food and walks, stay tuned… you’re about to find out.
Picking up on Our Cues
You might use your watch to tell the time, but your dog has a much better way of judging the hour – you. As LA-based vet, Dr. Jason Rabe, tells Popsugar via Yahoo, dogs (unlike cats, who can take us or leave us if the rumors are to be believed) are incredibly sociable little creatures, eager to bond and once bonded, a veritable sponge of information on our habits, routines, and activities. Will Bruner, an animal behaviorist, clearly agrees, noting “Dogs are really in tune with their family’s activity periods. My dogs will sleep as long as I do, but as soon as I begin to wake or I shift a little in the bed, they’re up. They follow the family’s cues.”
If you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably following pretty much the same routine, day in, day out. Whether you know it or not, your dog is watching you, picking up on the clues and the cues and putting together a scarily accurate picture of what you do and when you do it. If you’re in the habit of feeding them as soon as you wake up, it’s very likely they associate you getting out of bed with the sound of their food bowl filling up. Equally, if you always walk them as soon as you get home from work, that’s the reason they greet you with a leash in their mouth. Consider them your friendly, four-legged shadow – they know what you do, when you do it, and are clever enough to know exactly what that means for them.
The Circadian Rhythm
We’ve all got a circadian rhythm, and dogs seem particularly in tune with theirs – at least if the latest scientific studies are anything to go by. “Like most animals, dogs are heavily influenced by circadian rhythms, where the amount of daylight influences their daily routines such as their sleep-wake cycles,” Dr. Rabe explains. If dogs have an internal pacemaker, it would certainly help explain how they always seem to know when it’s time for lunch – not to mention why they’re still ready for it at noon even after daylight saving time kicks in. Just like our bodies get used to receiving food at certain times, so do theirs. And just like we get hungry at breakfast, lunch and dinner time because we’re used to eating at those frequencies, so do they. Little wonder, then, why they’re always waiting at the food bowl at such precise times.
Using Their Nose
If you’ve ever seen a sniffer dog at work, you’ll know how powerful their sense of smell is. And it’s not something unique to working dogs. All dogs rely heavily on their noses to understand their environment – something that some scientists think may explain (at least in part) how they seem to gage the time. As mercurynews.com explains, each time you leave the house, you leave a little piece of yourself behind in the form of your scent. Using their powerful sense of smell, your dog is able to keep track of how that scent fades over the course of the day, and then match that up with the time you normally come home. So, for example, if you usually get back into the house at 6 pm, your dog will start to associate your return with the level of scent still remaining. After a while, they’ll be able to sense, almost to the minute, what time you’ll be coming through the door. In the same way, if you’re in the habit of giving your dog a treat at certain times throughout the day, it’s likely they’ll be able to track when the next one is due by how much scent remains of the last one.
The Human Factor
A wolf is unlikely to know breakfast time from dinner time. Their activities are based less on routine, and more on happen-chance – they hunt, they kill, they eat. Their first meal of the day is as likely to be at 7 in the evening as it is at 7 in the morning. So, why do dogs seem to have an unnerving knack of knowing what time breakfast is, and their direct ancestors are happily ignorant of the fact? The answer is simple – dogs have us to inform their routines, wolves don’t.
Regardless of what their circadian rhythm or sense of smell is telling them, the main reason your dog knows it’s time to eat or time to walk is that we, in our subtle and not so subtle ways, tell them so. Dogs are creatures of routine because we are. If they have an internal clock, or if they have the ability to sniff out when the next treat is due, it’s only because our actions dictate as much. So, remember – the next time your dog disturbs your late lie-in demanding breakfast, it’s only because you’ve taught them to expect it at 7 am and not 9 am.