A jack Russell dog sitting beside a grandfather clock.

Can Dogs Tell The Time?

Dogs and Clocks

Can a dog tell the time?

I’m sorry to have to break this news to you, but no — dogs can’t tell the time.

If you’d asked me if dogs can perceive time, I’d say yes. Dogs can perceive time.

Many people say things to me like, “My dog can definitely tell the time – he’s waiting at his food bowl at four o’clock sharp every day!”

My last dog, who passed away a few years ago, would wake me up at five-to-six, on the dot, on 90% of the days he lived for. I never needed an alarm with Marley around!

Could he tell the time? No, but he could accurately perceive how much time had passed between regular events. He had an amazing knack for it! Like many dogs, he would wait for his dinner at a certain time every day. He would also stand beside my desk at one o’clock every day, in readiness for his early afternoon walk.

Many Animals Perceive The Passage of Time

Marley was like most dogs and many other animal species.

Without being able to perceive time, many animals would perish. Whether they are perceiving time using natural circadian rhythms (a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours), or environmental cues such as the changing amount of light during seasons, they can accurately recognise intervals of time.

We see a great example of this innate skill being used in migratory birds. They rely on circadian rhythms and seasonal cues to know when to migrate. Many would freeze or starve to death if they didn’t know when it was time to migrate to a warmer climate.

But leaving birds behind and turning back to dogs — although dogs can appear to be masters of time keeping, they are just very good at perceiving how much time has passed between regular events which are important to them.

However, it’s not always because they have perceived the passage of time, which tricks us into believing they can tell the time – they also watch our actions to predict what is coming next.

Perhaps, fifteen minutes before you take your dog for a walk in the morning, you clean your teeth. Then you open the curtains. It’s no surprise then, that fifteen minutes later your dog is standing next to your wellies, looking longingly at her lead.

She has learned that after you put that stick in your mouth, with the strange smelling paste on it, and let the light in through the hole in the wall with the invisible barrier, that she will be taken for a walk!

I’ll leave you with one of my fondest memories of Marley. We have a clock above our kitchen door, and the only time my wife and I would use that clock would be to check if it was time for one of Marley’s meals.

Marley’s eating area was next to the kitchen door, so while we usually used our phones or wristwatches to tell the time, for his mealtimes, it was the kitchen clock we glanced at.

It didn’t take Marley long to work out that when we glanced at a certain angle toward the kitchen door, that he would be fed. And I mean the slightest of glances!

That amazing dog would have his eyes homed in our eyes, and whenever we were in the kitchen, and our eyes even considered glancing at that clock, he would automatically sit, tail wagging, and wait for his meal. (Or a treat, if we’d accidentally glanced at the clock outside of mealtimes, and didn’t want to disappoint the poor lad!)

With this unspoken communication between us and Marley, my wife and I began tricking people into believing that they could communicate telepathically with our dog. We would tell them to look at Marley and think really hard about giving him the ‘sit’ command.

While they were attempting to connect with the mind of our beagle mix, one of us would move our eyes in the tiniest of movements towards the clock – a movement so small that any other guest who suspected we were giving Marley non-verbal commands would miss it.

A man sitting on a kitchen chair staring at a dog. Electrical signals are seen bridging the gap between them, as if the man is telepathically communicating with the dog,

Of course, Marley would immediately sit, making our guest believe they had used the power of their mind to achieve that outcome!

So, no, dogs can’t tell the time, but they are masters of perceiving the passage of time.

Thanks for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below. Remember to visit our shop – we donate a percentage of profits to UK dog charities each month.

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