Is your dog super-excited to see you when you get home?
Or… does your dog go berserk and tear the place up when you’re not home?
We often get the sense that our dogs experience time differently than we do.
But they clearly have some sense for it.
They often know when it’s time to eat.
They may seem to know when you’re coming home, when you should wake up, or when it’s time to go for a walk.
They aren’t looking at the clock. Dogs know things. The question is what they know, and how.
How long is a day for a dog?
You may have heard of “dog years,” where one year for us equals seven for a dog. We assign our dog equivalent “human years” by multiplying by seven.
For example, if your dog is three years old, we multiply by seven and say the dog is twenty-one. And then we imagine that the equivalent of twenty-one human years have passed for the dog.
In that case, a human day would be the equivalent of seven for a dog.
But is this so?
Why is time for dogs calculated in this way?
The 1/7 formula for calculating a dog’s age may have arrived as recently as the 1950’s. And it may have been based on the simple observation that dogs live until approximately 10 years-old, while humans lived to be about 70.
In the 1970s, Alpo commercials popularized the seven-to-one conversion: “Duchess is 13. That’s like 91 to you and me.”
This has led some to speculate the 1/7 formula was devised as a marketing ploy to sell dog food and encourage owners to bring their pets to the vet.
Sort-of predictable plot twist:
The 1/7 formula is not supported by science.
A 2019 study used DNA methylation – the way gene activity changes over a lifetime – to calculate a dog’s age more accurately.
And the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) used the findings of this study to come up with a new formula.
But it is probably best expressed in this chart made by the American Kennel Club:
The AVMA sees the first year of a small to medium-sized dog’s life as being the equivalent of 15 human years.
That’s right. Your one-year-old dog is a teenager. Makes sense now, right?
The second year of a dog’s life is about equivalent to nine human years. That means your two-year-old dog is 24.
And after that, each dog year equals approximately five human years.
Large breed dogs have shorter life spans and are well into their senior years by the time they’re eight. They’re retired, using their senior discounts, going on cruises, etc. The golden years.
How long is a minute for a dog?
It varies depending on the age, size, and likely the breed of the dog.
Using the AVMA’s guidelines we can estimate that a minute for a puppy equals approximately fifteen minutes in human time. For a two-year-old dog a minute equals about nine minutes. For most older dogs, a minute equals about five minutes.
How long is one hour for a dog?
Similarly, according to the AVMA’s guidelines, it varies depending on the age and size and breed of the dog.
For a puppy, an hour can equal up to fifteen hours in human time. That could explain why puppies need to pee so often. Who can hold it for fifteen hours?
For a two-year-old dog an hour equals approximately nine hours. For most older dogs, an hour equals about five hours.
That must be why they’re so happy to see us after a couple hours away.
How long is a day for a dog?
Again, it varies.
For a puppy, a day can equal up to fifteen days in human time. No wonder the puppy years are so important for training. Every day matters, because every day equals more than two weeks of learning and growth.
For a two-year-old dog a day equals approximately nine days. And for most older dogs a day equals about five days.
How long is a week for a dog?
Using same formula, a week for a puppy can equal up to fifteen weeks in human time. That’s almost four months! This is clearly precious time to instill good behaviour and habits.
For a two-year-old dog a week equals approximately nine weeks. That’s a bit more than two months. And for most older dogs a week equals about five weeks.
How long is a month for a dog?
For a puppy, a month can equal up to fifteen months – over a year – in human time.
They grow up so fast!
And for a two-year-old dog a month equals approximately nine months. For most older dogs, a month equals about five months.
It makes you wonder though…
Can dogs perceive time?
Research on how dogs perceive time – if at all – is limited. But we can be almost certain they do not perceive it as we do.
Regardless, research shows dogs are affected by time, and somehow know the difference between different lengths of time.
A study used hidden cameras and heart monitors to measure dogs’ reactions to being left alone for thirty minutes, two hours, and four hours. They didn’t seem to care much when their owners left for thirty minutes. But the dogs’ reactions were enthusiastic and intense after two and four hours. Interestingly, whether it was two or four seemed to make no difference.
They seem to have a sense of time, but no concept of it. They obviously have no way to measure time. No seconds, hours, or minutes. No artificial constructs.
The research suggests dogs have internal biological rhythms – fluctuations of neural activity, body temperature, and hormones – that cue certain behaviours. They’re reacting to a biological state or feeling at a particular time of day.
This has led some to presume dogs are “stuck in time,” and cannot willfully think back to specific memories or anticipate certain events. Indeed, some research also suggests animals have no concept of the future.
Some animal cognition researchers claim a dog can be trained to sit without remembering the specific event in which they were trained.
And they say animals like squirrels hoard on instinct, not because they’re anticipating.
It sounds like what they’re saying is: the dog’s body knows, and in some sense remembers, even if their mind doesn’t.
Other researchers however, argue dogs are not necessarily “stuck in the moment.” They claim that since dogs are capable of being trained based on past events, and can be taught to anticipate future events, they have some type of episodic memory. We just don’t understand it.
Now let’s take this knowledge about how dogs perceive time and make it useful.
Does time seem longer for dogs with separation anxiety?
According to the ASPCA, separation anxiety in dogs may be caused by being abandoned, surrendered to a shelter, given to a new guardian or family, or an abrupt change in schedule.
We know from the previously cited study that dogs react differently when their owners are gone for thirty minutes, two hours, or four hours. But there is no evidence time seems longer for dogs with separation anxiety.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs include:
- Panic and escape behaviour
- Clingy upon return
- House soiling
- Withdrawn and inactive
- Will not eat when alone
- Anxious upon exit
Frequent and intense exercise is known to curb some behaviours associated with separation anxiety. “A tired dog is a good dog,” as they say.
What is the recommended amount of time that dogs should be left alone?
It depends on their age, and in some cases other factors like health.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) based out of the U.K. released their PDSA Animal Well-being Report (PAW Report) which found that most dogs should not be left alone more than four hours a days. Young dogs must be gradually worked up to four hours a day, and puppies should hardly be left alone at all.
Some organizations recommend four to six hours for safety and comfort’s sake. Any longer could increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Rover.com has an interesting formula, saying puppies may be left alone one hour per every month of age. An adult can be alone up to eight hours, but ideally no more than six. And a senior dog two to six hours depending on size and health.
How has the pandemic affected the relationship between dogs and their owners?
Interestingly, 10% of U.S. adults adopted a new pet last year. Which means there are more dog owners, and possibly a lot of owners who never considered owning a pet before. These “pandemic pups” may not have experienced a lot of separation from their owners.
Those who had dogs before and had to start working from home undoubtedly got better acquainted with their dogs.
But “essential workers” may have spent more time away from their dogs.
One thing is clear: dogs and people are in this mess together.
As people stop working from home and return to work, how might this affect dogs?
Recalling our discussion on how dogs perceive time, it seems like their perception is relative to their age and breed. Now consider the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” As it goes for humans, so it may go for dogs.
Time may have flown by for our dogs while they spent all this quality time with us at home. But it may slow to a crawl for them as we return to work.
Consider the following options to help your dog transition back to post-pandemic life:
- A doggy daycare
- Getting somebody to walk your dog while you’re away
- Take your dog to work
- Come home to let your dog out for a quick play session
- The best dog toys ever
The days are long for dogs. Longer than they are for us, that’s for sure. And we have some looooong days. The best we can do is fill their days with as much joy as possible.
And just in case dogs have memories after all, let’s make sure they’re good ones.