Do dogs perceive time?
Just because dogs don’t perceive time exactly the way humans do, doesn’t mean they are living a life stuck in the moment!
According to a study done by Therese Rehn and Linda Keeling, dogs greeted their owners more intensely after being left alone for two hours compared to being left alone for thirty minutes.
Nevertheless, there was no difference in greetings between 2 and 4 hours of being left alone, which suggests that anything beyond 2 hours is unclear and needs more research.
Studying animals – for example, how they perceive time and the way they form memory – not only helps scientists learn more about animals, it helps them learn more about humans and how our brains work compared to animals.
When long-term memory is studied in humans, it’s often broken down into three categories: declarative memory, implicit and episodic memory.
Consist on personal stories and experiences that we have stored (whether it’s the day we graduated college or the day our child was born).
Consists on unconscious or automatic muscle memories that are used to complete tasks that we have learned and repeated over and over again, like driving a car or brushing our teeth.
And while there is still uncertainty and under-researched proof that dogs have declarative memories, if you’ve ever trained a dog or seen one perform a “sit”, “stay” and numerous other cues, years after they learned how, it’s pretty clear that they possess a form of implicit memories.
Is the ability to recall what, where and when pasts events occurred, to travel through time and looking forward to future ones.
Chimps and Orangutans perform well – when tested for episodic memory, but the verdict is still out on dogs.
Yet, we can assume that there is a form of episodic memory, since we deal with post-traumatic syndrome in dogs.
Maybe not as sophisticated as this of humans, while dogs will never visualise their future life, nor do plans.
However, once they have experienced or being traumatised by an unpleasant event, they will remember it and try to avoid it as possible.
Dogs are capable of being trained based on past events and taught to anticipate future events based on past experiences.
This argues in favour of a type of canine version of episodic memory, according to research conducted by Dr. Thomas Zentall of the University of Kentucky. The essential difference between us and dogs, appears to be that humans can pinpoint at the exact moment, when happened in the past by relating it to other events.
For example, we remember our graduation or wedding day as well as who attended, what songs were played, and the general ambience.
Dogs, on the other hand, can only distinguish how much time has passed since an event has occurred i.e. the food bowl has been empty for about six hours.
Of course, they don’t need only memory to tell them this; a growling, empty stomach will add to the equation.
There is also research evidence for dogs’ understanding of the concept of time based on changes in their behaviour. When left alone by their human companions, for different lengths of time, studies show that:
Dogs display greater affection toward their owners, if they've been separated for longer periods of time.
As the amount of time away increases, so does the dogs’ excitement.
This is not surprising to us – dog parents – as we have seen how they get excited about our return, especially after long absences.
Since dogs are domesticated, scientists didn’t think they could prove anything about how natural species behaved and have only really begun studying them in the last 15 years.
How do they do it?
The pineal gland is partially responsible, for how both dogs and humans, initially perceive time. Is a microscopic, seemingly insignificant bit of tissue, about 1 millimetre in length.
Part of the endocrine system, which is responsible for the production, distribution and regulation of hormones.
This gland produces a hormone, called melatonin, which influences a dog’s awareness of time, primarily governing daily, seasonal, and even sexual activity.
In a day-to-day context, melatonin determines a dog’s circadian rhythms, colloquially known as the “body clock”, it influences how much sleep a dog gets and how long a dog is awake.
If you know anything about dog sleep patterns, you know that the average puppy sleeps anywhere from 16 to 18 hours a day and an adult dog spends around 12 to 14 hours snoozing.
The production of melatonin is relative and responsive to how much light is available.
In other words:
Autumn and winter: – daylight = + melatonin
Spring and summer: + daylight = – melatonin
For intact dogs, (who have not been spayed or neutered) the decrease in melatonin production during the spring and summer, will trigger the oestrous cycles.
Consequently, the dog’s time is largely governed by it, without the aid or need of philosophical reflection. Nature has provided!