Do Dogs “know” how long we’ve been gone?

How many times have you heard that “dogs have no sense of time”? I’ve heard it and read it over and over and over again, and always wondered why anyone thought they knew it to be true. Or not. How would we know? I’ve been asked this question often, and always answered I simply didn’t know, but that it seemed reasonable that they had some sense of time, even if it wasn’t exactly like ours. So yeah for researchers Therese Rehn and Lindsay Keeling for doing a study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, that attempts to answer that question. (“The Effect of time left alone at home on dog welfare,” Vol 129, 2011) In brief, they recorded the behavior of dogs left by their owners for 30 min, 2 hours and 4 hours, and found that if the dogs had been left alone for 2 or 4 hours they greeted their owners with more ‘intensity,’ and were more active and attentive, than when the duration of separation had only been 30 minutes. However, there was no statistical significance between the dogs behavior if left alone for 2 or 4 hours.

There are many ways to interpret that, but one is that the dogs perceived a separation of 2-4 hours as not being particularly different, but very much different from a 30 minute separation. For what it’s worth, my observations, which are just anecdotes, are that Willie’s greeting behavior varies tremendously based on how long we have been away. When we returned from  New Zealand, after being gone for 3 weeks, he ran between Jim and I, whining endearingly, flipping in circles, licking our faces raw . . . a very, much more intense greeting than if one of us had been gone for a day or two.

What do you think? Granted, none of us are doing research, but I’m still curious about your observations. Do you observe that your dog greets you differently when you’ve been gone longer? And, of course, here’s the kicker: If they do, how much of it is a response to a difference in our behavior?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Poor Willie is still on leash restriction. I gave him a bit of freedom the day of our vet visit (Wednesday), and he was soooo happy to be free. He lept and spun and shiney-eyed his way from the barn back to the house. And sure enough, his limp came back. But not in the vet’s office. For that 45 minutes he looked as sound as a dog could be. I actually had to have one of those “Really, honest, doc, he was limping this morning….” discussions. His radiographs showed no signs of any kind of OCD or a torn Biceptal tendon, and there were vague indications of maybe, maybe (maybe?) a torn Supraspinatus, but not likely. (By the way, this is not your general practice vet, it’s an orthopedist specialist who has been a great resource for me and many of my friends.) The vet recommends anti-inflammatories, PT for 3 months and then re-evaluating. I’m still considering more testing, MRI, etc, but will meet with the PT first.

Luckily, I got an appointment with a fantastic physical therapist at UW Vet School on Monday. I’m so curious what she says, can barely wait til then. This weekend (vet’s instructions) I’m going to give Willie a bit more freedom to give the PT a better sense of what is going on … walking a fine line not to set him back, but giving her enough information to figure out what is going on. Meanwhile, I’ll continue his exercises, anti-inflam meds, chinese meds, fish oil and glucosamine/chondroitin.

Tomorrow we should have a great time. Students from the UW small ruminant club are coming out to learn how to do ultrasound pregnancy checks on my flock. The shearer is coming too, so we’ll be in the barn all morning, then back to the house to eat chili and summer berry pie. The pies are in the oven right now, better go check them before I burn them!

Here’s Willie and Sushi, hanging out in the living room with Jim tonight, waiting for me to stop writing and come to bed!


  1. Kat says

    What an interesting question. I’d never heard that dogs have no sense of time. I just assumed from the beginning that Ranger had a sense of time although it wouldn’t be the same as mine. From the time we adopted him I’ve tried to give Ranger a sense of how long we’d be gone. “Right back” means less than five minutes, “in a little while” equals 5 minutes to 60 minutes”, “in awhile” is 1-4 hours, “back later” is 4-6 hours and “I’ll be back” is open-ended meaning longer than six hours. I figured I was telling him more for my benefit than his since it made me feel better to tell him but he seems to have some grasp of what it means now that he’s heard it for three plus years. When I say I’ll be right back he stands waiting for me. I’ll be back has him walking to the porch and laying down. Of course there are other clues that are probably more meaningful to him than the words. The longer we’re going to be gone the more we leave him to do and I’m sure there are things in my body language that I don’t recognize but he picks up on. I haven’t especially noticed that he’s more excited to see us when we’ve been gone longer but he’s had some sense of when to expect us.

  2. says

    I’m friends with my dog trainer, and attend the last class of the night. Afterward, we often sit around and talk, and throw the ball for the dog. After a few weeks of this, my dog began to get her ball out of the training bag, which made sense to us. Class is over, games begin, right?

    Then she started doing it even if the other students hadn’t left yet- but when we looked at the clock, class had run over. And then she did it in a different training building after it had been an hour. Finally, she did it at her veterinary behaviorist’s office- a different place, different people, the only thing that was the same was the time elapsed.

    Can’t tell time? I beg to differ.

  3. Amy W. says

    Have you had Willie’s elbow checked? My dog developed a significant limp that turned out to be arthritis in his elbow. We have been treating him with Adequan injections and had good results.

    Also, to answer your question, I have witnessed my dogs reacting more strongly to longer lengths of absence. While my husband and I were gone for a week, my dogs stayed at a boarding facility. The night we returned home, our dog, Axle – who does not sleep in the bed with us – jumped up on the bed and slept between us the entire night. He hasn’t done it since.

    And, yes, I do think that my dogs’ reaction is linked to my reaction. How could it not be? If they read my body language so well in other situations, how could not they read how happy I am to see after a long absence? As social species are we programed to feed off those around us?

  4. Paula Lancaster says

    I don’t know about leaving them for weeks because I never do, but mine know time pretty well…if it gets past 5:30 there is a dinnertime demonstration going on! Even taking into consideration Daylight Savings Time, they still seem to get it….

  5. says

    I am a physical therapist, and I was going to ask if you had an MRI done for Willie. Sounds like you have not. I would recommend it even though I know it will cost a fortune. In the end, having a more definitive diagnosis will help Willie’s recovery, direct his PT program more clearly, and will give you peace of mind. : )

  6. says

    Sweet furry friends you got. I sure hope that limp is nothing serious. As a professional massage therapist I am certainly familiar with strains in soft tissue and how hard they can be to diagnose. Traumed is always a good remedy to have on hand for sore areas on people or pets. As regards absence and time, I rarely ever am apart from them, so I really can not say. But the issue reminds me of an article I just read as regards a dog’s ability to recognize itself in the mirror. Personally I often questioned the supposed lack of memory of dogs. This seems to not at all relate to my experience with my pups. Thanks for another wonderful post, I have been reading along for a few months now, om.

  7. Margie says

    One thing to keep in mind is a human’s actions when greeting our dogs after a long absence. After being gone for 3 weeks, at the kennels to pick up our doggies, I was so excited to see them that I am sure they reacted to my enthusiasm. I knelt down and called my Roxie to me and she was so excited when she left the kennel, she knocked me over. Skye came running, jumping up and down, tail stub (he’s an Aussie) wagging 100 miles a minute! I don’t doubt they miss us more and more as time goes by, but we have missed them ever so much too!

  8. Virginia Summers says

    Our dogs definitely react differently depending on amount of time separated. I would have to say for Karli, intensity is also increased after absense on a day trip depending on whether or not she was fed before we leave or after we return. Food is a big deal to her. A 3 to 5 hour absense gets a more intense reaction than a half hour one. Coming home from being on vacation a week elicits hysteria on her part. Katie, who is a year older, is always excited but doesn’t get as intense as Karli. We got her from the pound while we still had my old dog, who was accustomed to us leaving once or twice a year, liked the pet sitter, wasn’t anxious or upset about it, didn’t seem to worry we weren’t coming back. She was a very confident dog, and I think that was helpful to Katie in learning how to deal with a lot of things. She had been a very timid, frightened dog when we picked her up from the pound, was so frightened she wouldn’t move. Meeting Tasha completely reassured her about it being a safe place to be when we brought her home.
    Karli was a bit anxious when we went to see her at the breeder’s house, figured something was up, and hid under the porch. I had wanted to interact with her dam, but the breeder hadn’t thought about it, and had her in a pen that could only be accessed through another pen occupied by a bunch of hyper, exited coon hounds and bassett hounds. She had hound dogs and Entlebuchers. The Entle puppies and coon hound puppy were the dogs out in the yard, as well as her older Bassett hound that she did obedience with.
    If I had been in charge, I might not have taken her. I prefer more confident dogs. My husband wanted her, so we took her home. She was 4 and a half months, and everything freaked her out. The cats, understandable since my mother’s cat I inherited made a pre-emptive strike on her as she came up to the house, just to make sure she understood who was in charge. The fish in the pond, and frogs were objects of suspicion. She didn’t like running water, particularly the natural creek that all kinds of strange smells around it.
    She is very attuned to her pack staying together, so when one of us goes off, it bothers her. She harasses Katie for not staying close to me on walks off leash, herds her back to me.
    She scolds us after separation, which got worse after my teenager started petting her when she barked at him, thus rewarding the barking.
    So she gets really intense after a longer separation. We have left the pack and she doesn’t like it, and Katie doesn’t do what her little intense Entle brain thinks she should do.
    Katie is probably a chow mix, but looks so much like a rare Japanese breed called the Kai Ken that pictures online don’t just look like Katie, some look like pictures of Katie. Unlikely to find a litter of a rare Japanese breed in our local pound, though. But Katie is more independent. Moat likely a chow mix, too small for an Akita, but definitely with some kind of Asian spitz type ancestry.
    Both are great little dogs. Katie requires more repetition to learn behaviors, Karli is a ‘give me a job, any kind of job’ dog. I’m thinking of getting her ducks and training her to herd them. No room for goats, I’m afraid.
    Sorry, start writing about the girls and I start rambling.
    They are both very trainable and a lot of fun. I think if I just had the energy, I could teach Karli anything. She started out not being the best dog for me. Very high energy, and had spent her first 4 months being allowed to jump up, which tended to hurt me. I have a disabling neuromuscular disease that can be limiting. She is the first dog I have gotten professional help with in 40 years, after about a dozen other dogs. We called her the rocket propelled dog, and she brought me to tears on occasion. She did wonderfully in training and is a great dog now. I just needed some help with her, and to get through her adolescence. Responds wonderfully to positive training methods. Occasionally have to yell ‘Hey!’ when she is being too rough with Katie, or gets wound up.

  9. says

    I have two rat terriers, and my older one, Mindy acts intense no matter if we’ve been gone for 2 minutes or 2 hours. I can imagine though if we’ve ever left her for days, she’d be crazy intense. but for the most part, she acts like she hasn’t seen us for days even when we’re only gone a few minutes!

    She’s a very happy loving dog! hahaa

  10. says

    Wishing Willie a speedy recovery. Too bad you don’t live in the town with the “other” UW (University of Washington) because then Willie could come to for some massage and swim therapy! May his days of freedom and leaping to lick his owners’ faces raw return soon.

  11. says

    It seems like overnight separations garner the biggest responses from my dogs. I try to be very non-chalant on my returns but my normally calm, cool and collected shiba inu is very expressive when I have been gone for more than a day.

    My clingy old male akita can be anxious on my return regardless whether it is short or a long time. Sometimes, I think what happens while I am gone (noises, people knocking on the door, etc) can influence his behavior upon my return.

    Do you know why the study chose 30 minutes and then two hours? I would have liked to have seen a time span between 30 minutes and two hours. How did they control for the owner’s greeting behaviors and what the dog was exposed to while the owner was gone?

  12. Judi says

    I haven’t observed closely enough to notice a difference between a 30-minute absence and a few hours’ absence. Sometimes I think the greeting differs if I come home at a time they associate with going for a ride or a walk — greetings at those times are more excited and probably as much directed toward the car (both dogs love rides) as toward me.

    When I was a teenager we sometimes boarded our sheltie with his breeders. I always told him what day we would be back and how many days away that was. His breeders, who probably didn’t know about my conversations with him, commented once that they saw a pattern in his behavior. He was very obedient every time — until the day we were coming to pick him up. On that day he sneered at their efforts to get him to do anything like go into his crate or a run. I always thought he knew it was “safe” to be disobedient on the day we were coming home. He was happy and behaved at his normal level of obedience for us.

    I wonder about the dogs (and even more so cats) that seem to be shunning or “punishing” their people after the people return from a trip.

  13. says

    In my experience dogs with separation anxiety have the worst time from the moment the owner leaves until an hour or so after, when they usually settle. Then they have another peak of anxiety just half an hour or so before the owner returns. Even after therapy, dogs can have a hard time if the owner changes his schedule so… I sure think they know something about time…
    My own dogs greeting ritual changes with the time we have been gone, (well, even the cat’s).
    Hope Willie gets better, PT usually works miracles!!
    And don’t worry, the “I’m at the vets door so now I’m ok” syndrome is veeeeery frecuent. 😉

  14. Frances says

    My dogs certainly have a sense of time when it comes to mealtimes – supper is at 6pm, and the eyes start to drill into me from 5pm onwards, as I can sometimes be persuaded to feed earlier if breakfast was particularly early. At 8pm we play the tooth treat game – and it is at 8pm on the dot most days, because I get reminded at 5 minutes to.

    A sense of the duration of an absence or an event is trickier. Given the chance, Poppy would greet me as if I had circumnavigated the globe when I come back from putting the garbage in the bin. I certainly behave differently depending on how long I have been gone – a few minutes and they get “Don’t be silly”, a few hours and we get together on the floor for cuddles, a few days and I am probably more desperate than they are! A short walk will settle them for a car journey nearly as well as a long walk, and while there are favourite games we tend to play at certain times of day (hiding under the duvet while making the bed; fetch and tug in the house after dark), how long we play for seems unimportant, as long as the game happens.

  15. Jessica says

    I definitely get the impression that my dog greets me differently when we deviate from the daily routine. If I come home early, I get a very excited (though freshly woken from nap) dog. If I get home after my husband, I get an extra excited greeting compared to the usual (usually I get home first, so maybe her greeting is tempered by wanting to go out).

  16. Ellen says

    I find that my dogs get a burst of adrenaline when they go to the vet’s which really can mask their symptoms. Sometimes I’ll take a movie of how Java is limping or acting before I bring her in, just so I have something to show the vet.

    Hope Willie’s feeling better soon!

  17. says

    I have just had an experience yesterday that has affirmed (in my mind) that dogs have some understanding of time.

    Last week I took on an extra dog to walk from a family down the street. The spouse who normally came home at lunch to let the dog out was out of town for four days. I was hired to walk the dog, named Barley, twice a day: mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Every time I went there that week, it always took Barley a long time to come to the door when I let myself in and called her. Sometimes as long as 15 seconds, even though the house is quite small.

    Now, on the other hand, just yesterday Barley’s owner phoned me from work and asked if I could walk Barley around lunch time, she didn’t think she could make it home that day. I let myself in, and Barley was standing right in the living room, next to the front door.

    The only thing that changed was the time of day, so I assume Barley was anticipating her owner coming home for lunch, but didn’t anticipate me coming in around 10 AM and 2 PM, and so I caught her asleep at those times.

  18. Suzan says

    I think that dogs can somewhat approximate how long we’ve been gone. Perhaps they may not keep time they way we do, but the greeting intensity always increases the longer I’ve been gone.

  19. Tina says

    I have noticed a difference in intensity depending on how much time has elapsed and also a difference in intensity on WHO returns. I think of it as “Oh, it’s you” (when they just lift a head from the couch) and “OH, it’s YOU!!!!!” (when I get practically knocked over at the door). To matter of factly dismiss dogs (or any animal) as not having a sense of time is ridiculous. I personally have never been inside a dog’s mind & experienced a day in his paws…I feel for you & Willie with the leash restriction. We are in the same boat with an Achilles tendon injury (which was originally thought of as a paw injury) and cannot wait for more freedom! Best of luck for recovery!

  20. AnneJ says

    My dogs definitely act different if I’m gone for a week or just a few hours. I’m sure it’s not a difference in me because I never fuss over them when I get home, and after a big trip am usually busy unpacking and tired out.

    One time it was particularly unfortunate, and that was when I was in the hospital giving birth by C section. I was gone for almost a week and when I got back Becky, who normally didn’t jump on me and wasn’t that into crazy greetings, leaped up on me and bounced off my stomach. Hurt like heck, and she pretty stunned by my reaction.

    They also greet good friends they haven’t seen in a long time differently than people they see ever day, much more leaping and wiggling and thrashing around.

  21. mungobrick says

    I’d been told that dogs don’t know the meaning of time, too, and it seemed an odd thing to say. We’ve been leaving Daisy at a local kennel since she was six months old (she’s just turned two.) She loves the kennel, where she gets to play play play with other dogs, and she loves the people who run the kennel (it’s mutual), which is wonderful because she is a very shy dog, particularly with strangers. We’ve generally left her for 4- 5 days, but we had an emergency just before Christmas and had to leave her for almost two weeks. The kennel owner told us that after ten days Daisy started having real difficulty – she was obviously antsy and unhappy. They switched her to a larger kennel and took her on some leash walks in the nearby woods (why do I love this kennel??!) and things improved but she was obviously bothered. So if she had no concept of time why would this happen? She was getting lots of exercise and attention, and she likes being there on balance. And certainly she’s more effusive if we’ve been gone for several hours (or weeks) than if we’ve just been out shovelling snow yet again. She’s also effusive with the cat (who’d really rather she wasn’t) when she comes home from the kennel, but not if she’s been gone all day with us. BTW, the cat responds differently as well when we’ve been away – he has someone who comes in to feed him – than when we’ve just been out all day. Not effusion so much as bitter complaint.

  22. says

    I have also been curious of the concept of time passage in dogs. My experience is 35 years in Shelter work, work in Veterinary practices, dog sports training and of course my personal dogs.

    In kennel situations, the dogs I observed showed similar greetings no matter how long their owners had been gone. More sensitive dogs seemed to go through a short period of “mourning” after being left, then settle in to routine. Their behavior did not change much after they settled in, no matter what the time passage. This is why I recommended some owners not “visit” their dog in a temporary the kennel situation. The dog would go through the stress again, sometimes worse, after they left.

    In my personal dogs, I do notice a difference in the 2-4 hour window and lets say a very rare 6-8 hour window. I do not attribute this to a feeling of “time”, but a need to relieve themselves and/or be fed. (God forbid my dogs miss a meal). “Where were you Mom, I have to pee BAD and am starving.” I am also aware that I do act differently towards then when we return home from an extended vacation.

    I also note my dogs greet me differently when I leave/return at unusual hours. If I go out in the evening, which is unusual for us, and come home in 4 hours, that greeting is very different than going out in the afternoon for 4 hours. Is it the change in routine that triggers the increased enthusiasm?

    There are just far too many factors to consider before thinking a dog has a good sense of time passage based on how he greets you at the door. It sure is comforting to the ego that they miss us though!

  23. Cora says

    It’s so funny; I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time (darn that academic calendar!), yet here I am on a Saturday morning greeted by a topic I was just contemplating in my own mind yesterday! My dog definitely has a sense of time as it relates to our typical, daily routines. In fact, it seems to me like she also has a sense of my weekly routines (at work M-F then home on S/S). I find that on a typical work day I receive a typical greeting from her if I return at the expected time–you know, wags and kisses but nothing outrageous. However, on the rare occasion that I’ve returned at a significantly different time (like the time I ripped by pants open down the back and had to come home and change an hour into the workday), she offers a much more excited greeting than usual. I also have an established pattern of the pre-dinner staring and positioning–a few times that I was napping on the couch at 6pm, I was awakened with a direct kiss on the lips from a very determined dog. “Do you see what time it is?” It wasn’t 5:59 and it wasn’t 6:01; it was 6pm on the dot every time.

    On a related note, my grandma used to tell the story of their family dog, Spot, who used to walk my 6-year old uncle to school each morning, go back to see him when he came outside for recess after lunch, then meet him back at school at 3pm to walk home together! No one ever intentionally trained him to do any of this, he just figured it out on his own. (Of course, don’t get me started on the various aspects of letting the dog run free all day, nor allowing the dog to be responsible for the safety of the 6-year old. Suffice to say, it was a small town in a rural area, in a different generation, and my grandma herself was a very young, naive mother with a couple more little ones at home to look after. In her later years, when telling me the story, even she marvelled a little that she’d let all that happen.)

    In short, I definitely think dogs have a sense of time. I’ve always thought that people who said otherwise have never lived with a dog!

  24. cathy says

    I’m not sure I can really comment on the 2 vs 4 hour separation, but I know my dogs greet my husband Much more enthusiastically after he has been gone for overnight or longer than at the end of a workday.

    I don’t see how dogs can not have a sense of time passing when they have such a good “clock” for routines such as time to get (me)up etc and it’s not necessarily linked to cues. Here’s an example. At 10 o’clock the dogs go outside for the last potty break and the cat comes in if it is out. The cat is often waiting on the porch. Then I feed the cat and the dogs get a treat. When Daylight Savings time ends the dogs start barking to go outside at 9 o’clock instead of 10. They aren’t getting cues from the time they ate dinner or by what I am doing. It takes several days to get their clocks adjusted.

  25. says

    My dog actually seems to get more excited when we are gone for 15 minutes or so (= short time). Maybe it surprises him that we are back so early.

    His excitement level also seems to depend on what time of the day we come back. If we are back in the middle of the day when he is napping, he doesn’t even come and greet us.

    And the 2nd person (the last person) to come home always gets more intense greeting than the 1st.

  26. Suzanne Parks Zilembo says

    My Aussies and my 1 Maltese seem to know what “time ” certain things happen. A half hour before my husband comes home from work, they begin to be aroused by every little sound and run to the stairs. As for supper time, the 2 male Aussies get all excited at 4:30 P.M. every day. That is about a half hour before they usually get fed. We notice that with the change to daylight savings time, they still are on the same schedule, where they start feeling hungry at what would have been 4:30, and take awhile to adjust to telling us it’s supper time at the “new” 4:30 ! As for leaving them for vacations, they are certainly more excited and alot more emotional when I have been gone a week as opposed to a few hours.

  27. says

    Very interesting question to think about…My dogs seem to know that certain things happen around certain times of day. Like the previous poster, my dogs seem to “know” when it’s getting close to dinner time and around the time my husband comes home. I do tell my dogs “I’ll be right back” when I am only leaving for a minute or two. And I am definitely more enthusiastic when I greet my dogs when I’ve been gone for a longer period of time. It seems that dogs would “know” when they’ve been left alone a long time with clues such as the hunger in their stomach, feeling more energetic because they’ve had a long time to sleep, sun up and sun down, etc.

  28. Kat says

    Cora’s comments reminded me of something. With four humans and a therapy canine coming and going I can’t keep track with out a detailed calendar. And since we regularly have random additions (yes, I can describe my so called schedule as regularly random) added to the daily week to week events I find it very hard to think of us as having a routine. Yet somehow Ranger seems to be able to keep track. On Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon more often than not he gets to come with me and after we drop off whichever offspring he and I go for a walk or if I’m feeling up to it a trail run along an urban woodland trail. I leave each morning in the same window of time (between 8:15 and 8:40) so *I* don’t think there is anything to distinguish Tuesday from any other day of the week but he still knows. Thursdays are a bit easier to figure out how he knows since afternoon departures are all over the map and only Thursdays in general do we depart about 3:30 but how does Ranger know it is about 3:30? Mind you he’s outside while we’re getting ready and yet he’s waiting by the gate when we open the door. I wonder how much a dog’s sensitivity to patterns plays a role in their apparent ability to tell time.

  29. jackie says

    I’ve never been entirely convinced with the ‘dogs live in the moment’ theory. It seems to be an excuse in some circles for oppressing dogs – we’re just permissive parents indulging them by anthropomorphising imagined traumas in their puppyhoods which they’ve long forgotten. They are just being dominant over us (of course).

    With our dog, I actually get a better greeting if I return quickly. If I leave it more than 30 mins he’s gone fast asleep and spends five minutes waking up! However on the rare occasion that I have left him for a really long time (due to unforseen circumstances) he has been wild to see me. Similarly if he’s in kennels for a week he’s more pleased to see me than if he’s just been there for day care.

    However remember that other things might mark time. Our dog has to be kept away from visitors, often by being tethered. Today he was very, very good till near the end when he started attention barking – was he fed up because he knew it had been a long visit, or because his legs felt they needed a good stretch or he needed a pee?

    My gut feeling in this particular case was indeed because he knew it had been a long visit – he’d had a run in the garden and a nice long break in the kitchen at dinner time playing with his Kongwobble, yet started complaining again very soon after he came back into the room where the visitors were.

  30. jackie says

    Another thought – we can get easily decieved byhow sensitive dogs are to cues. My parent’s dog could always anticipate my father’s return home from work and would spend ten minutes watching for him out of the window. They eventually worked out that the dog recognised the theme tune to the radio programme that my mother listened to at that time in the evening.

  31. lin says

    I would think dogs and many other animals would have a sense of a ‘day’ (light, then night, then light again). My dog seems to have more a sense of time within a routine. Like others, she comes to expect her walk at a certain time; and she used to get excited at about 8:00 a.m., when my husband would drop me off at the subway and she could come along for the ride. For about a year after we got her, she had seperation anxiety, and we had to work on behavior modification and gradual desensitization of our absences. Many years later, she now reacts no worse than any other pet when we leave or come back.

    When we go away now, it may be the change in routine that upsets her as well as us being gone. Her world doesn’t make as much sense.

    Mr. Kitty knows when it is 6:00 a.m. because that’s when he usually gets breakfast. When he starts getting restless before 6:00 a.m., he gets put in the kitchen with no breakfast. So now he is fairly quiet until 6:00.

  32. says

    I do notice that my dog greets me differently when I have been gone longer. She always greets me very enthusiastically so I do not notice a change in her intensity when I’m gone but more in the quality of her greeting. I am probably saying this in a very confusing way but she projects a different mood/personality when I’ve been gone longer. She projects more of a question into her body language…something like “”Why did you leave for so long? Where did you go? Why didn’t you come back sooner?” … rather than …”Great, you’re home, what are we going to do know, lets get on with life.” I also notice she tends to be kinda mopey after her greeting when I leave for several days or more, although getting to sleep in my bed that night seems to reasure her of my love.

  33. em says

    Otis, for one, is very sensitive to schedule pattern. His reaction is noticably different when I’ve been gone a long time, but he shows his strongest reaction to my homecoming when I’ve been gone unexpectedly. The distinction is more noticable in Otis than in any other dog that I’ve owned because he’s such a cool customer, typically speaking. If I’ve only been gone for a short time (up to three or four hours), during a time when I typically go out, Otis’ reaction to my return is extremely mellow. Like, he doesn’t even get up mellow.

    If I’ve been gone a bit longer than three hours, he greets me at the door, sniffs and waves his tail a teeny bit, but stays pretty calm. Longer than that, and his sniffing, wagging, and nose poking gets much more excited and intense. He follows me around more closely and stays close to me for much longer.

    Curiously, though, the length of time doesn’t matter as much to Otis as adherence to my schedule. If I’m running late, even if it’s only by fifteen minutes or so, and even if I’ve only been gone two hours, Otis gets as anxious as he would if I’d been gone all day. According to my husband, he’ll get up from his bed within five minutes of my regular homecoming time, and start pacing and whining in front of the door.

    This whole situation has led me to re-think the canine greeting ritual. Every other dog I’ve owned has been much more demonstrative about greeting, and my monkey brain LOVED it. That effusive greeting was intensely reassuring and reinforcing (to me). Otis is as tightly bonded to me and my husband as any dog I’ve ever known, but he never does that frantic wiggling, wagging, licking dance that I love so much. Not only does he not feel the need to gratify my vanity this way, but he forced me to acknowledge that, in his case at least, excitement at the door isn’t a reflection of how much he loves me as much as it is a reflection of how anxious he was about my absence. Now I wonder about all those other doggy love-frenzies. Were they just naturally that much more effusive? Did I teach them, somehow, that I like that reaction, or were they ALWAYS that anxious about my absence?

    With great pattern recognition and what seems to be an excellent sense of the passage of time, Otis is evidently quite comfortable with scheduled absences of significant duration but nervous about my absence when he expects me to be at home. This isn’t merely a reflection of physical discomfort, since he shows the same behavior even when my husband is at home to feed him and let him outside. He does seem to know what time it is…I’m just not sure HOW he does it.

    p.s. I’m not sure whether it’s due to his upbringing (he was an extremely neglected rescue), but Otis, who has always had excellent canine social skills but had to learn about people), has never been a wagger. He’ll wag his tail when excited, during play or occasionally during an excited greeting, but he doesn’t seem to mark relaxed happiness with tail wagging.

  34. Lynn says

    Trish: on Willie’s shoulder – I’d get a second opinion. I was told my pup’s X-rays were “inconclusive” when he was lame on his right front shoulder, but “no signs of OCD”. So I took him to a specialist said “what do you mean, inconclusive? it lights up like a Christmas tree – he’s got OCD. Only why did they only X-ray one shoulder?” I’d done enough research that when he pointed it out to me, of course I could see it. And it turned out it was bilateral. He had surgery the next day, problem solved.

    I met people at that practice who flew in with their top agility dogs from Texas, or who drove in with their Border collies from Minnesota or North Carolina, and I’ve known a lot of Border collie owners who have worked through months or years of “inconclusive” diagnoses (from top ortho vets in the midwest) only to have their problems resolved after a second opinion. I’ve also known people with Border collies slated for surgery for a shoulder issue after diagnoses from leading ortho vets when the second opinion revealed the problem was with a broken sesamoid bone. Not trying to knock your ortho vet, just sayin’ that when it comes to diagnosing animals who are naturally stoic, it’s as much an art as it is a science, and that a second opinion can be especially valuable.

  35. Dee says

    My mini Aussie ‘Roxy’ has a distinct squeal that she uses only when one of us has been gone “too long.” I got back today from an overnight and got a few squeals. The youngest of our five kids was home for the summer between college semesters right after we got this dog, so that daughter gets “the squeal” when she comes home from college for visits. The other four kids gets excited barks, yips and spinning, but not squeals. Both my husband and I get squeals if we have been gone one night or more. When we got back from a 10-day vacation, Roxy squealed non-stop for 10 minutes.

    Roxy was given to us by one of my dog trainer’s assistants who had her for 8 months. Another of our trainer’s assistants is also our pet sitter and groomer. Assistant B dog sat Roxy a lot for Assistant A before we got her. Assistant B/groomer/sitter gets huge squeals when Roxy goes to get groomed or the groomer stops by the house. Assistant A/former owner works at the training center where we went for agility. Roxy hadn’t seen the former owner for months the first time we went for class and squealed so badly, for so long, we had to leave class to settle her down.

    The longer Roxy has been separated from a person she in bonded with, the longer and louder her squeals. It is a badge of honor in our family to warrant a squeal.

  36. Thea Anderson says

    Sylvie always greets me happily, but if I’ve been gone all day she whines and jitters and sweeps her tail side to side very low and very fast. I’m sure at the very least her bladder tells her how much time has passed.

  37. Margaret S. says

    One of the pleasures of coming home after a longer-than-usual absence is looking forward to the special welcome we know we will receive, with lots of intense wiggling, whining and pressing against our legs. Is it a response to our behaviour? We think not, because the excitement starts even before the returning person is inside the gate. There is a solid wall and gate hiding the view of the street, but family members who are at home watching from inside can tell the moment that Maxie recognizes the returning traveler even before the returning person has had any time to interact with her at all, before he has even spoken to her through the wall. She even seems to recognize some airport taxis, even though it

  38. says

    What time is it? versus How much time has passed? Very different questions, don’t you think?

    When Rubin, my dog, was a pup, I tried not to leave him alone for more than 4 hours. Then one day, the dog walker forgot to walk him and he was home alone for 9 hours at 4 months old. He did fine — no messes, no freak outs, no worried agitation when I got home (though I admit, I had some). Still, he knows when it’s time for a walk and on what days he gets to play with his best friend, Monty so somehow there’s a time/spatial/pattern memory, yes?

    What I’d give to hear his thoughts on the matter =-)

  39. says

    Well, our guys know when it’s time for walk (particularly if it is delayed), they know when it’s time to go home when they’re spending a day outside, I think they do have some sense of time. I also do believe that they have some understanding of how long we were gone, perhaps not in hours, but I’d think definitely in terms such as “for a bit”, “kinda long” and “where the heck have you been?”

  40. says

    I find a major factor in “return greeting” has a lot to do with where my dogs where while I was away. When I go away for a week or so (or even just a weekend) for a dog show, my oldest dog stays with my parents. When I come home, he really just doesn’t care all that much. He LOVES “grandma and grandpa” and I find his excitement upon arriving at their house is more pronounced then when I return to get him. (I do, however, find he doesn’t seem to sleep as well when I am not there which can make him a little cranky)
    If I leave the dogs at the kennel for an afternoon while I finish up a paper for school, etc – they act like I left them for months.
    If they stay with a friend they know well for a day or two, their reaction is somewhere in the middle.

  41. Alexandra says

    My dogs (and cat for that matter) certainly seem to have a sense of how long I’ve been gone, and the longer I am gone the more excited they are to see me when I return. I think they break down the length of my departure into short, long, and really long though. They also seem to break it down into routine absence vs non-routine absence.

    For example, I just got back home late after a rare evening out with my husband. We were gone about 6 hours, and all three animals were nose to the door when we walked in. Copper, my lab who is a little prone to separation anxiety, was really excited that I was back but also looked kind of anxious. He promptly lay down on top of me (nothing like a doggie blanket to feel cozy) as soon as I say down, which is quite a bit more clingey than he is after a similar length absence during the day like going to work.

  42. Alison says

    I get the same “happy to see you, now let’s play” reaction if I’ve been gone for 1/2 an hour or all day. It is a bit more enthusiastic if the dogs have been home alone (usually there is someone else around). If I’m gone overnight, I get a more intense greeting. When I was gone for a month(touring Australia and New Zealand), at first when I walked in the door the dogs acted normal…then after a few minutes it was like it suddenly dawned on them that I had not been home for a long time and I got a super intense knock-you-off-your-feet (literally) greeting with a lot of licking and body wagging.

    I always figured the dogs have a sense of timing, just not quite the same as mine. Much like an hour for a small child seems like forever, where as an hour for an adult usually passes quickly. (Does time seem to pass more quickly for an old dog?)

    As far as knowing what time of day it is, my dogs know when its time to get up, time to walk, time to play, time for me to leave, and time to eat. Bear seems to judge ‘time to eat’ by the position of the sun (or the amount of daylight remaining) as it’s earlier in the winter and much later in the summer; it doesn’t matter if he’s spent his day outside or in the house. It’s time to eat just as the sun goes down (or so he thinks). Meg seems to have a very efficient internal clock and wakes me up at 7am on the dot.

  43. says

    Dogs have a sense of time, but in my experience, after about 30 minutes my dogs would have been asleep, so after that point whether it was 2 hours, 4 hours, or longer, I’d get back and they’d have had a good sleep and been excited to see me as it meant it was time to go walking, or maybe even class that night.

  44. says

    My boyfriend and I just went to Costa Rica for a week in February. When we returned, I was surprised that our dogs didn’t go crazy! I can only chalk it up to the three people who spoiled them rotten while we were gone — our wonderful dog sitter and dog walker, and a friend of mine who stopped in periodically. The dogs were probably thinking — oh, you again, I want those guys back who gave me treats and let me do all the stuff you don’t let me do! I was actually quite relieved, since it was the longest period and the furthest distance we’ve been gone since getting Sophie and Boomer. We did make sure with schedules — including for the night we got home — that there would never be a gap of more than 3-4 hours that someone wasn’t home. And they had the pet sitter overnight every night. I would like to see research of what happens for time frames longer than 4 hours — that might be very telling.

  45. Janice says

    Trish–I am reminded of a report from an anthropologist who was studying a tribe ( I don’t remember who or where) that their language consisted of only three words to indicate changes in degree: they had a word for “one,” “two,” and “many (or lots).” I seem to recall that they applied this concept to both objects and time (and attempts to teach our arithmetic to the adults was an impossibility-they just had no way to conceptualize it). But within their hunter-gatherer existence, they thrived–and likely had knowledge sets that we can not fathom. So even humans, in some circumstances, can function quite well with a minimal expression of orders of degree.
    So I will pose a possibility that dogs may use a similar reasoning. The 30 minutes could be “a few,” but 2 to 4 hours is “lots.” The same with leaving Will for a day or three weeks. Three weeks would be “Lots.” Certainly a dog would be cognizant at some level of diurnal or day/night patterns of time passage, wouldn’t you think? Interesting question……

  46. Gin Gin Bon Bon says

    I definitely believe dogs have a keen sense of time (and many, many observations seem to support it), especially when they have a regular routine or if a specific amount of time in a known context is followed by a meaningful event like play, mealtime or greeting a loved one. I mean, they live in the moment, but 4 hours is a lot more moments than five minutes!

    Our dog is MORE excited to see us after an absence of under an hour, too; she hasn’t settled into a nap or extended alone time yet and she seems extra happily surprised that we’re back so soon! It’s a qualitatively different response as well, less desperate, high pitched whining but bouncier and more exuberant.

    I also talk to my dog in sentences to explain roughly how long she should expect us to be away. I do think she picks up information from my posture and tone of voice. I like to give her the benefit of the doubt :)

  47. Jennifer Hamilton says

    As an owner of a pet resort, I get asked this question frequently…especially from owners who are feeling guilty about leaving their pet for a long stay (with the term “long” meaning very different things to different owners. From 8 years of watching 40-60 dogs greet their owners on a daily basis…with stays ranging from 2 hours to 2 months…my answer is always the same…”it depends on the dog”. Some dogs seem to have the exact same response whether being separated from their owners for 2 hours or weeks at a time. And that consistent greeting ranges from “oh my god, where have you been all my life” to “oh, it’s just you.”. And we have plenty on either end of the spectrum and everything in between…but what’s interesting for this group is that they are consistent, regardless of the duration of separation. The second group, however, has given me more insight into a dog’s sense of time. This group of dogs behaves like normal until a point in their stay with us where things change in a noticeable way. This change in their behavior tends to change somewhere around day 10 to day 16. At this point, these dogs seem to be saying, “I’m over this place, it’s time to go home”. When we see this switch in this group of dogs, we are careful to give them space and alone time as their fuse tends to be shorter as they seem to lose patience with the situation. This group tends to have a more intense greeting with their owner once this threshold has passed. And while dogs in this group have different lengths of time for hitting that threshold, individual dogs tend to be consistent (I.e. a dog who is “done” with camp on day 12 this visit is likely to be “done” with camp on day 12 of his next visit.

    I fully appreciate that my observations may relate more to whether a dog wants to go home to it’s normal routine or stay and play with us, however, it has also lead me to conclude that, like everything else, some dogs may have more of a sense, or are affected by time, than others.

  48. Shannon B. says

    I think dogs understand routine and general timing. They probably have some instinct when it comes to time of day based on seasonal input, how else would my dog know that dinner time comes in the day during summer but in the dead of night in winter?

    Of more interest to me is what long term time means to a dog. I often have to travel for 2-3 weeks at a time and worry horribly about my very pampered pouch. He is not borded while I am away, but home in his comfortable, familiar environment with his beloved housekeeper. But still I worry and wonder. He is always happy to see me when he returns and is pretty much “back to normal” within an hour or so of my arrival.

    I wonder if the 24 hour clock has more meaning to dogs than days, weeks or even months.

  49. Beckmann says

    In this case, my dog has a very obvious differences and he definitely has a sense of time.

    Also I would like to mention here one more additional element to the length of time. I believe the dog

  50. orietta siri says

    Dear Trisha,
    i would like to hear your thoughts on this behaviour…
    We have adopted (my husband and I) a 7 years old Lab, she is with us fm one and half year. Our situation is not ideal for a dog as I work 250KM fm home and I’m out fm Monday morning till Friday evening. But she was alone (her originally humans parked her with a provisional owner who suddendly died), she has dysplasia, we tried to find a solution with the local kennel but found none and decided that she would be better with us than at the kennel.. we are working at improving her behind legs and she made remarkable emprovement..
    Anyway the behaviour is the following: On Fridays I leave fm my working place at approximately 5pm and at approximately the same hour she barks one/two times with the tone she uses to call us in the morning (she sleeps in her shelter in the garden) when we oversleep. Usually it takes me 2.5 hours to arrive at home with the car. She is doing this only on Fridays, can she know that one week has passed and can she feel me coming home? (very nice thought by the way…).

  51. says

    I have had dogs, cats and horses who could all tell time. The most obvious way is anticipation of a routine, such as the time my son came home from school. His cat always knew when it was 3:30, and would get up from where she was napping, and go to the window to wait for him. Now he is working, and she knows when his shifts should end, and if he is late getting home she will walk around and call for him.

    Our dog knows when it is time to get up, and if my alarm doesn’t go off, the wet nose alarm will. He knows what time dinner is served, and will nudge me if it is past time. He always greets us at the door when we return, no matter how long it has been. But if we have been gone all day we do get a more enthused greeting.

    The horses had the best time sense though. I was giving riding lessons years ago, and the lesson horses knew we did 1/2 hour lessons. The minute that 1/2 hour was up, they would walk to the gate and stop. Didn’t matter what the student did, the horse knew the job was over, time to go back to the barn. This was different because there was no set routine. Lessons could and did happen any time of the day, but the horse knew when the time was up.

  52. Sharon C. says

    Poor Willie – and I know that scenario of “Honest, Doc..”! I hope you get some answers soon. I also hope you enjoyed your visit from the ruminant club!

    As for time – my dogs, and other dogs in our training classes – they certainly know short durations of time. If we train sit and down stays for only 1 – 3 minutes, they would start to break right near the end of the time limit. If we make the time variable, they tend to be more patient.

    My two daughters are in college, which means a lot of long absences. The dogs intensely ecstatic when they come home for a weekend (and they are visibly unhappy when they see the bags and laundry being put back in the car for them to go back). They seem to know that someone they enjoy has been gone a long time, and now is back.

    We also have the same dinner/breakfast/bedtime behaviors, that don’t seem to be connected to daylight changes.

    Overall, I agree – dogs can comprehend at least some degree of elapsed time.

    On a related note – how do you think dogs (or young children) interpret travel? We put them in a car, they fall asleep for a while, and they wake up and get out of the car, only to be in a totally new place. What must they be thinking?

  53. Sarah says

    My greyhound Belle is notorious for low key greetings. When I come home from work she lifts her head up to see who it is and then resumes relaxing on the couch. Maybe a slight tail wag or if she feels particularly energetic she might come over to sniff out all the dogs that I came in contact with at during the day, though I do not pretend to believe this is interest in me. I could simply drop my clothes on the floor and she would pay no attention to me whatsoever. I get kisses, jumps and frantic tail wags from everyone else, but not Belle.
    I went on vacation for two weeks and when I returned, I recieved the most enthusiastic greeting in our shared history. She rooed, she pranced, she pawed at me and simply could not get enough of me. Do I believe she knew that I had been gone longer than the normal workday? There is no doubt in my mind.

  54. Kris says

    After about 10 minutes or so, Duke’s reaction to my coming home is pretty much the same–pure elation! He has a very distinct sound (cry) he makes which is usually accompanied by a grabbing of the closest toy and several minutes of full body wagging. They is no greater feeling of pure, unabated love than a Duke greeting!

    Best of luck to Willie…Courtney at VMTH is fabulous! Tell her Duke says hi. :)

  55. says

    The comment about how much our own behavior impacts that of our dogs is a worthy one. Although I’ve read over and over again that it’s best to leave and return home in a neutral way (to help reduce any anxioty) I can’t help myself. Frankly, I am just as excited to get home and romp around with my pooch as she is. Thankfully, this hasn’t created any issues. :-)

  56. Catherine says

    Sorry to join this conversation so late… Jennifer Hamilton’s comments are fascinating and shed some light into different patterns.

    Like most of the other readers here, my dog gives signs that he knows what time to expect my husband to return, dinner to be served, etc.

    When I return from 2-3 day trips, even late at night, I get a more enthusiastic greeting than when I’ve just been out for the evening (i.e. he gets up out of bed and greets me). But when my adult stepson, who had spent only a few weeks with the dog previously, returned after being away for a year, the dog did one frantically-happy-greeting-wagging dance followed by about 5 more – he just kept circling back as if to say “I just can’t believe you’re here – I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” This is about 5x the happy greeting we ever get, even when we have been gone for a week.

    We board him when we both travel and I’ve wondered about a way to communicate via visual signals/symbols how long we will be away… something that might acquire meaning for the dog after repeated observation. One thought I had was that a kennel could use a sort of dog “advent calendar” or visual countdown. In the dog’s boarding room (the facility he stays at has private rooms) there could be a high shelf with a row of objects visible to the dog – one per planned day of boarding. They could be toys or treats or kongs or even just cutout shapes if treats were too stimulating/frustrating. One could be removed from the shelf each day (if treats were used, one could be given to the dog each day in the morning or at bedtime), and on the last day, there would be none left. Initially this would have no meaning, but with repeated stays, the dog might learn that the last item disappearing was a predictor that the owner would return that day.

    Is this crazy? Too abstract for a dog? Curious if anyone has tried something like this!

  57. Melissa says

    I’m quite intrigued by this. I have noticed that day-to-day I get maximal energy greetings when I’ve been away for about 90 minutes. If I’ve been away for half an hour I get average greetings, and if I’ve been away for several hours I get about the same as if I’d been away for 30 minutes. I’ve often wondered why when I’ve been gone around an hour to 2 hours I get the “Thank the lord you have returned, we are so glad.” treatment but when I’ve been gone all day I get the “Hooray, you’re home!” treatment, same as if I’ve been gone for half an hour. How peculiar.

    I have wondered if it has something to do with how I leave them. If I’m going for a couple of hours or 30 minutes I tend to walk out with a “I’ll be back, boys” tossed over my shoulder. But if I’m going for a few hours I take more stuff and the dogs know and I give them a chew treat to ease the parting. I am wondering if by giving the “I’m going out for a while” treats the dogs settle in for the long haul, so are more calm, and if I don’t and come back after 30 minutes, they aren’t especially surprised to see me, but if I don’t and come back an hour or so later, they were starting to think I should have returned by now and so are more aroused.

    OR… When I go out for an hour or two I take more stuff, but don’t give them the treat, so perhaps the extra stuff is the important cue to them and therefore they are surprised to see me a mere 90 minutes from when I left. Huh? Woo hoo! Surprise return! Ever gone out and forgotten something and come back a couple of minutes later? Sheer bedlam in my house. She’s back! Already! Bonus!

  58. Susie says

    Whoa, lot’s of comments on this one! I haven’t gotten a chance to read them all, but I wanted to add my story– I recently was away for (horrors!) 4 months.

    I was studying abroad for a semester and sadly could not bring my dog with me. I’ve often wondered what he must’ve thought while I was gone. When I didn’t return after a few hours, a few days, even a few weeks… I myself felt as if I were grieving for him and, having heard/read in different places that dogs do in fact grieve (is this true?), I wondered if perhaps he thought I had died and was never coming back. 4 months is a long time… Eesh it makes my heart ache thinking of how confusing that could’ve been for him. I know I spent moments every day asking my roommates (who must’ve thought I was nuts) “What do you think Bodhi is doing right now?”

    Aside from the probably mean joke of speaking to him over skype while videochatting with my mom, we didn’t see each other until the airport parking lot the night I got back. Though I’d like to think the emotion of the greeting was so inflated because he missed me terribly and thought something horrible must’ve happened to me and was overcome with relief that I had suddenly come back to life, I honestly think it had more to do with my own emotion upon returning home and seeing him. It seemed the more vocal I was squeeling and leaping with him for joy, the more vocal he became.

    Who knows! An interesting thought, though.

  59. Sue J. says

    Based on the experiences with the dogs in my life, dogs are sensitive to “routines” and time of day. I had a dog that always wanted to go outside at 8 A.M. on the dot. Didn’t matter if I left him out to pee at 9 P.M. or 2 A.M. when I got home from work. He also “knew” when I was coming home from work. My husband told me he would always ask to go outside 5 minutes before I would come home from work ( and I came home at different times). How do they know that?
    In terms of knowing a period of time, 30 minutes versus 4 hours, I relate it to my own experience. If I’m busy at work, 4 hours can go by very quickly. If I take my dog to the dog park for an hour and he runs around like crazy, chances are he’ll come home and sleep for four hours and not care how long I’ve been gone. If I leave him when he hasn’t had exercise, and he’s bored, he’ll be crazed if I’m gone for 30 minutes.

  60. Debra says

    It has been an interesting journey watching Hope unfold. Eight months in and the changes keep happening. He was still frightfully thin when I adopted him in July. He ate what was put in front of him but did not act at all motivated by treats fed by hand. I cooked him some special meatballs to teach him to recognize his new name and to look at me. Now, he is a very food motivated dog. It took three weeks before I saw a loose-jawed smile. Trying to work at training caused him to lay down and turn his head away or just fold up his front legs belly up. I started by giving him 3 treats for sitting on a rug in the kitchen. If he laid down, I moved to another location and we continued there. When finished, I told him in a squeaky voice how happy I was and what a successful dog he was. Now, he loves training with the clicker and can do some easy tricks. He smiles and pants and slashes his tail back and forth. At the six month point, he suddenly picked up one of my cats catnip toys and began playing with it. Flipping it in the air and investigating it with his mouth. With his canines ground down to the gum line, he cannot tear it up. We say that he is giving it a gummy. Until then, he showed no signs of play. Just short of eight months, he found a tennis ball that Jim had left on the floor and began playing with it. I pulled out a glow ball that had been Jelly’s and gave it to him. He loves it. Due to lack of teeth, he cannot pick it up but seems to like the texture. He bats it through the living room, knocking down tables in the way, and grows at it. I don’t care about the table, I am just happy to see his joy. In other aspects, he is becoming more like a border collie. At first, he gave the cats a wide berth. Of late, he is dropping his head and staring when Frankie or Nicky jump and run across the room. I send him to his bed. Recently, he has begun policing behaviors in day care that are a concern. He wants everyone to be calm and if dogs are behaving in a boisterous way, he runs in barking and even snapped at a Newfie. He spent the rest of the day in time out. I took him back for 1/2 day and it seems that he is better with dogs smaller than jumbo. When the policing behavior began, he was taken out and after a long nap, he was fine. When left alone, he is happy upon our return but not over the top crazy. His reactions to vacuum cleaner and lawn mower are also more exaggerated. We aren’t certain of his age. Best guess by 2 vets was 7 to 10 years. He does wear out but bounces back after a short nap. 10 is not extremely old for a bc and I wonder how much the near starvation and infections harmed him long term. I am continually amazed by the fact that he is still here after being less than 1/2 his current body weight. While I knew Hope would change, I still am surprised by these changes eight months out.

  61. Art says

    A very egocentric neighbor who leaves her two dogs for months on end constantly asserts that they don’t know the difference between a quick grocery run and her traipsing off to “explore her inner self.” She thinks it’s all fine because she has a “wonderful” sitter. Yeah. Her wonderful sitter shows up once day, feeds them and leaves. Meanwhile, the dogs often bark out of what I perceive sheer boredom, loneliness and loss.

  62. mary says

    Hi growing up we had a dog called susie she knew exactly when my dad came home for lunch at 12.00 .. she would be out the front waiting for him and when he finished work at 4.30 and if he wasn’t home on time she would walk down the road to where he worked and sat at the front door and waited for him … she was a very smart dog and they can tell when there owners are coming home ..I do believe they observe there owners habits ..

  63. Sam Harris says

    To answer this question: No. Dogs do not have a sense of time. They have a sense of what is familiar to them, and when they are not active in the routine, they are left confused out of their routine environment. Humans interpret their confusion as being “emotional” on a human level of emotion. But dogs do not rationalize or “think” or dwell on the negative consequences of their troubles. They live in the now. ONLY when a human returns to THEIR environment does a dog suddenly realize the familiarity of what was. Otherwise, a dog goes on about its business as though the human isn’t there, never wondering if the human will return. What a dog misses is the cues or sounds or the habit of the environment it is removed from. They don’t think in depth the way humans do. They miss cues. They miss what is familiar, but they adjust to the environment of “now” unless cues are reintroduced to them. Only then do they become excited when they recognize the familiar cues. As for separation anxiety of a dog, they are not distraught that the human left, as they are more distraught without recognizing cues of familiarity. Give an anxious dog a bone and all is forgotten. Dogs are not human, and they do not think like humans. Occupy them with something in the “now” and they forget (or don’t consider) what was. It’s all about cues and living in the “now.” Dogs are NOT like humans at all.

  64. Mary says

    Well, Sam…I think there’s some truth in what you wrote, but I disagree they completely forget what was. I just had to leave my 7 mos. old puppy with some friends for a week while I was on a family visit for some big events. They had a dog and she settled in very quickly and did fine there. She also had to go to a kennel for a few days while THEY were out of town. This was the longest we’ve been separated since I got her in December. When I came to get her yesterday, her greeting was way and above what it’s ever been…she was CLEARLY thrilled to see me and happy that I was back. I have no idea what goes through her head when I leave like that, because I’ve only had to leave her twice for several days since I had her…and this was the first time that she was in an unfamiliar environment. She did great…and I do think that as long as dogs are loved, and treated well, they do fine with separation. But you cannot tell me she didn’t have emotion at my return…it was palpable.

  65. says

    My late dog, FERBY would lie by the garage door before my cousins would come to visit us; sometimes he would wait 2 weeks before waiting. He died June 25th at 13 yrs and 3 months of a heart attack. While giving him a bath at the kennel, got short of breath and died. We miss him every day. I wonder if he realized we were ever coming back to see him or just left him – I hope not.

    Roberta Freedman

  66. Rakk says

    My girlfriend was away from her 7 year old dog for 5 weeks (longest time shes ever been apart from her dog and when she came home he peed himself of happines.

  67. Cheryl says

    My Irish Setter handles four hours pretty well- greets me at the door, is happy with his short walk. Looks astonished that I head back to work, and barely acknowledges me when I come home four hours later. His kong is empty, his bone is nearby, and the bed is warm where he was probably all fours in the air. The Staffordshire Terrier roams the house, looking for interesting stuff to taste, and turns herself inside out whenever I come home. I worry that they see the day go by, but then they cuddle up at night and all seems to be well. Perhaps every day is a new day. Except for breakfast.

  68. Donald says

    We have two Aussie mixes. Every day, they know when their meals are served, and when it’s time for their evening walk – within 15 minutes! They rarely miss. If I do, they remind me with a nose nudge.

  69. says

    I believe dogs do have a since of time. When our dog was a few months old we started walking her at 6pm every day. From the first time we walked her, which was three years ago, she will now push me off our sofa right at 6pm if I do not walk her. This has been going on every day since the first day we walked her. How does she know when it is 6pm I have no clue but I do know that at 6pm if I have not walked her she will push me off the sofa until I take her for her walk, even if it is raining!!! She is a Pit Bull

  70. CatS says


    I have a 6 month old Parson Rusell Terrier. Because my parents house is on my way to work and because the house has a garden for him to have fun, I usually leave him in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon. My father is retired, loves his company, and therefore they spend a lot of time together (except for food and sleep, because I feed him in the morning before leaving and in the evening). When I come back from work the Parson always runs to me but when I leave him in the morning he doesn’t mind that I leave. Now I am going to be away for 3 days, and the dog will stay full time with my dad. I know that he is going to be fine and happy, much better than in the kennel, but because he is going to have all this attention and care, I am worried that he is going to forget about me… Will he take my dad as his favorite from then on? I guess I’m the one having separation anxiety 😛 Any words?

  71. Jeff says

    Yeah, I keep hearing “no sense of time”, especially with regard to working with our dog on his separation anxiety. “He has no sense of time. If you can get him to the point where he’s got 20 minutes, you’re golden…” And framing it in terms of intensity of response, I see that.

    Humans have an innate sense of number, which works something like 1, 2 , 3, many. I wonder if there’s a comparable idea of time for dogs: minutes, vs. a couple of hours, vs. ???

    If I were to redo a study, I might want to consider a longer span, looking for the next time classification, as the dog sees it. Is it at 6 hours? 7? I might also want to compare the same dog’s intensity upon return comparing left totally alone vs. not-his-primary attachement. For example, in a two-person home, does it matter left totally alone vs. with one or the other person?

  72. Patty says

    Because I work at home I don’t need an alarm clock. My dogs wake me at 7:30 every day for breakfast & and potty time. Even on daylight savings time they are with in a half or of accuracy for a day or two till they get back on time. Then the same for dinner they know what time it is.
    I don’t know if they use the sun, things going on around them or what but I think they do hav e some sense of time perception.

  73. Ann Lange says

    I had read somewhere, years ago, that dogs could sense one day, maybe two, but after that is was all the same. I observed my dogs were about as happy after a 6 week trip as they were after a 4-day trip. They went to the same kennel each time.

  74. Rebecca says

    Just this week, NOVA: Inside the Animal Mind featured Dogs and Super Senses. While it was not a study, and one dog is not proof, they featured a dog that would routinely get up and wait at the door for husband at the same time he would come home each night. Wife came home first, fed and walked him. A little while later, dog would get up and wait excitedly at door, often as much as a half hour before he would be scheduled to come home. You might expect that the dog was using the wife’s coming home as an early predictor.

    So at the end of the week of videoing, the mom stopped by where the dad was playing sports, and got a few of his worn shirts. She then went home and wafted them all around the room.

    That night, the dog did NOT get up. In fact, he laid on his bed, content. And seemed almost surprised when the husband came home.

    It’s believed the dog was using odor, and how much it had deteriorated, as a predictor of when he’d be back. When the odor of his dad had deteriorated to a certain point, it was his cue that dad would soon be back. LOVE this. Would LOVE to see a study done on it.

  75. Roberta Silvia says

    I think dogs have better sense of time than human but they use it in a different way , for example, they know very well at what time we are use to go for a walk ……without checking any clock !!!! but they don’t care too much about how many hours they are alone at home ..they simply wait …my dogs greet me more if I go outside for few minutes than if I stay for 3or4 hours ..but , of course , I don’t leave them alone for long time ..

  76. Laura Smith says

    I’ve always thought this was a silly idea. My dogs have always made it clear that they understood the difference in time. A short amount of time, 30 minutes to an hour, they react much different than if I’m gone 6-8. And when I’ve had to leave them for a week, wow! The behavior is almost heartbreaking! Whining and spinning and carrying on. And it can last as long as an hour! Clearly they have some sense of time.

  77. Maryanne Athnos says

    My dog Dusty seems to know when it is 4pm. I usually stop what I am doing and go to the backyard for a refreshing drink. Dusty likes to sit in my lap and survey his territory and guarding me from all sorts of things. If I do not get my drink and go to the back door he paces, whines and paws my leg.

    He is excited when I have left him for even a few minutes, if I have left for any length of time it takes up to 30 minutes to calm him down. The vet says he has ” separation issues”.

  78. Keli says

    I know this post is old, but you mentioning Willie’s shoulder problem perked my interest, since I am having the same issues. And I do know Willie ended up having surgery, but wondering how it was finally diagnosed? My aussie is only 3 (agility dog) and has been hobbling around for a couple of months, but does not show anything when he goes to the vet or chiropractor. Vet thought OCD and did xrays and found nothing. She is suggesting a MRI. What did they do to finally find Willies (I think in future posted you said) bicep tear?

  79. Jennifer Taylor says

    My Yorkie greets me more furiously the SHORTER the amount of time he is left alone. I have gathered from this, though, that it is likely because he settles in and goes to sleep when he is alone for longer, and is woken from a deep sleep at that point. :) If I am gone for 5 minutes, he barks and whines and jumps around!

  80. tim kimzey says

    thank you for having this web site it realy helps me and others alot more then we can express…thanks agin and god bless………..

  81. Courtney says

    Just wanted to mention my dog always greeted us happily as if you left for days, even to walk down to the garbage chute and back. I was in the hospital for almost a month and when I came home she didn’t care and ignored me for 3 days. So I definitely think they have some concept of time. And possibly have abandonment issues too.

  82. Alan says

    In my old job I always arrived home at around 10 past five if not a bit earlier, my housemate when on night shift told me that every day at quarter to five she would lie down at the window waiting for me to come home, so yes I believe dogs have a sense of time.

  83. james s says

    I 100% believe that dogs have a concept of time. We have a dog that I was able to teach the fling the springy door stopper when ever he had to go use the bathroom. So that shows an awareness of time and bladder control

  84. Mike says

    When we went to Japan for 10 days we boarded our dog, now passed away, at the vet’s.
    I went to pick him up on the way home from the airport – expecting an enthusiastic greeting. Nope – he walked into the exam room with one of the lab assistants and looked at me like: “Oh – it’s you. I like it here.” We went home and he just settled in – did greet the wife with more enthusiasm than he greeted me. Of course – this dog always liked going to the vet’s from the time my Dad got him. He was my late father’s dog and later became my late uncle’s dog before coming to live with us. Dog liked people a lot – I was always afraid he would wander off with a stranger. He seemed to live “in the moment” more than other dogs I’ve known.

  85. Linda says

    I believe dogs must remember, as when my dog, Hank, came to us, he literally showed up on my front door step as a 6 month old puppy, he had been abused in his early life. I found this out when I picked up a newspaper one day to get a fly in the room and noticed as soon as I picked up the paper and rolled it into a cylinder shape, he went to the far side of the room and cowered, afraid and shaking. We have never hit him, or even yelled at him, so this reaction was totally a result of his past abuse, which he must remember – proof in the fact that he remembered that newspaper and what was done to him prior to coming to live with us.

  86. Michael T. Lemen says

    I do know this dogs just like us have an internal clock. It’s obvious that they know when it’s dinner time to the minute. I feed them diner every day at 6:00 pm and they start bugging me at 5:56 or better every single day

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