Regardless of whether or not you are a dog owner or not, you have most likely heard the statement that one human year equals about seven dog years. However, the manner in which this concept is phrased can be very misleading. People have tirelessly dedicated themselves to figuring out the nuances of “dog time,” projecting advanced theories of time on to pups, no less! Many have gone as far as to do the math to figure out how many hours a dog experiences in one “human hour.”
With this train of thought, it’s easy to explain away many uniquely dog habits. For example, this concept of “dog time” sheds light on why our pooches are always sure to greet us at the door after our regular work shift, why they have sleepy spurts throughout the day, and why they are always ready to eat at the same time. They obviously have their own little doggy schedule, right!?
Well, actually it may not be as straight forward as that. . .
Dogs do not actually have such a nuanced sense of time, according to various studies. In fact, time is a purely human invention; therefore, dogs don’t experience it the same way we do. When we assume that our dogs understand time, we are projecting complex human concepts on to them. Babies and dogs are similar in that sense: neither has the mental capacity for time or episodic memory. Instead, they react to situations as they arise. Because of this, dogs tend to have a “live in the moment mentality,” which explains why they might lack a sense of delayed gratification. They want what they want, when they want it.
As mentioned above, dogs do not have the capacity for episodic memory (source). In other words, when your dog reacts positively to a treat or when he knows that it is time to eat, it is not necessarily because he has an advanced sense of memory or time. Rather, your dog is simply responding to hormonal fluctuations that occur within him.
Not to fully discredit our pooches, but sometimes we can become blinded by our love for them and their love for us. We become so bonded with our pets that we begin to think they are the same as us. In these moments, maybe we overestimate them. Though it is a sweet and even funny thought that your dog knows what time you get home, it is a learned habit, similar to babies walking. People can’t remember their first steps as babies but the steps just kept happening through learned habit. Even though our dogs are our babies, they are not actually human babies…
This can be helpful to keep in mind for a couple different reasons. First of all, it is good to note so that we do not expect too much from our dogs, as they do not actually have a firm concept of time. And second of all, it is helpful to remind ourselves of this so that we do not put too much pressure on ourselves. Maybe you were one of the people to deduce that for every human hour, a dog supposedly lives seven hours. If so, you might feel guilty for leaving your dog home alone for so many ” dog hours” while you were only at work for five “human hours,” but, in reality, there is no need to feel guilty. The idea of “dog time” was originally just a way to discuss dogs’ average lifespan, it isn’t necessarily an actual measurement of time that dogs use.