Thu 23 Mar 2006
I have had the pleasure of serving as alpha, or beta after my wife to a number of dogs. In this capacity it became obvious to me that dogs do not have the same sense of time that people have. For people, time is a continuum, constantly seeming to flow from the past to the future.
When a properly cared for dog’s people leave and then return the joy and pleasure on their return is as complete and total whether the absense has been ten minutes or ten days. The dog seems to know no difference! If you go away for a minute or two and return, the dog recognizes that you have only been absent momentarially and greets with only a modest recognition.
My experience has been only with working dogs, such as shepherds and retrievers, and only with male dogs, so it may be atypical for other breeds and females, but I strongly suspect that this is generally the case.
One explanation for this may be that dogs simply do not experience time as we do. It seems as though they only live in the now – essentially that short period that an event lasts. This could be because a dog has limited (or no) semantic long term memory.
If long term semantic memory were absent in humans we would have no history. We would remember how to use tools, and accomplish tasks, but we would not remember events. Memory of events is how we measure time: “I remember when…” Without the reference points, time would be irrevelant, and we would have only the now, since imagining the future comes from remembering the past.
Dogs remember where to dig up bones, and whether someone has been kind or cruel to them, but I don’t think that they remember that we played with the ball this morning. Perhaps that is why dogs always seem to want to go out to play when they are in, even if they just came in a half hour ago. They just don’t remember that they were out.
Perhaps that is why a well kept dog that gets his share of attention and exercise never seems bored. If there is nothing to do, just lay down. They don’t remember that they have been doing it for the past three hours.
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