Luvk9s Dog Training


My Labrador retriever gets fed every morning at 6:30. If I get busy and lose track of time, he quickly lets me know. By 6:45, his frustrated, high-pitched barking lets me know that I have fallen down on the job.

I know dogs cannot tell time, but how do they do that? Numerous theories abound.

- Dogs may be responding to human social cues and body language.

- Dogs may be reacting to the environment.

- Circadian rhythms may be coming into play.

- Dogs may be using their powerful sense of smell.

Body language

Domesticated dogs have evolved to be very skilled at picking up social cues, reading human body language and figuring out associations between events.

Pushing away from the dinner table results in my dog walking to the door anticipating a walk. Glancing at the food bowl and purposely walking towards the pantry means it’s feeding time. Dogs associate picking up the leash with a walk and keys with a car ride. A brown truck pulling into the driveway means somebody is coming to the front door with a package. The garage door opening means a missing family member is home.

Changes in the environment

Experts also believe that dogs notice changes in the environment. The sun rising may be triggering your dogs “feed me” reaction. The same is true as the sun starts to set; your dog knows when it’s dusk, he gets fed, he goes for one more walk or a family member will be home soon from work. Being dropped off at the dog sitters house means you will be gone for a while. For our dog, it also meant that he was allowed up on the couch, something he was not allowed to do at home. 
Circadian rhythms

Humans, animals and even some plants have a circadian rhythm, or in layman’s terms, an internal or biological clock. explains that “circadian rhythms are the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, responding to light and dark in the animal’s environment.

“An animal’s response to these circadian rhythms is coordinated by the brain which enables neuronal and hormonal activities in the body. Circadian rhythms and biological clocks enable us to recognize that, when it becomes light, for instance, we begin to feel hungry or when daylight ends, we start to feel sleepy.”

Northwestern University did an interesting study in 2018 where mice appeared to be using their brain’s internal sense of time to figure out that they needed to wait six seconds before an invisible door opened to reveal food. If mice can do this, we could surmise that dogs might have this same ability as well. (To read more about this study, click here.)

Sense of smell

Many researchers think that dogs may use their incredible sense of smell to determine how long you have been gone and when you’ll be back.  Author and behaviorist/trainer Karen B. London, PhD. notes in Bark magazine that “odors change over time, sometimes predictably. When you leave the house to go to work each day, the smell of you in the house decreases with each hour of your absence, and your dog can detect the difference. Perhaps your dog has learned through repetition that when the smell of you has weakened to a specific degree, you come home. In other words, the strength of your odor predicts the time of your return.”

This makes sense if you think about how search and rescue dog’s work. They do the opposite by following a slight scent as it gets stronger to locate the missing person.

Click here to see how Jazz the vizsla gets thrown off track when sweaty clothing of the owner is added to the environment before he gets home.
Don’t forget to set your clocks back to standard time on November 1. This will impact you and your dog’s biological clock so be patient as your dog adjusts to the time change along with you.


Happy training!