How Do Dogs Perceive Time?
Most dogs are never late for a meal — they know exactly where to be at the same time every day. They also know when to expect their owner home and, like clockwork, place themselves patiently at the door for that arrival.
When you witness this behavior, you assume dogs have a sophisticated understanding of time. But what is time really like for a dog?
They say a human year is equivalent to about seven dog years. But what does this common theory tell us about a dog’s perception of time? Actually, very little. The idea of “dog years” comes from the life expectancy of dogs compared to humans, not from the concept of time perception.
To understand how dogs perceive time, you must first understand how humans perceive time. Each person experiences the passing of time in different ways and at different times. Albert Einstein once explained the principle of relativity by saying, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity”.
Even though the experience of time is relative for every individual, humans do think about time in similar ways. For instance, our memories are inextricably tied to how we understand the passing of time. Our ability to remember events in a particular order plays a large part in our perception of time. We’re also able to predict things. Though we don’t all claim to be psychic, each of us counts on certain events in the future — even as simple as assuming that the sun will come up tomorrow. These abilities have important implications — for instance, memory and prediction allow us to have a sense of continuity, personal history, and self-awareness.
Do dogs and other animals have these same abilities? If you climbed inside a dog’s mind, would you be presented with the memory of eating a raw hide bone earlier this morning?
Here’s a view of how a dog’s memory works:
Without the sophisticated abilities it takes to perceive time — like forming memories — dogs live only in the present. They don’t have the ability to remember particular events in the past. A dog can know how to respond to the command “sit” without having a memory of the specific event in which he learned that command. Instead of remembering how much time passes between meals or what time meals are given, dogs react the same way at the same time every day.
To read more about some amazing abilities that dogs have, explore dogs on the How Stuff Works website.