The memory of dogs: how do they recognize meal times?

The memory of dogs is a phenomenon so far little studied; many scientists claim that dogs have short-term memories, but many owners claim otherwise.

To this day, there is no scientific evidence that dogs know what time it is. It is probably because researchers have only recently explored this topic. However, pet owners say that dogs’ memory means they know when it’s time to eat, and that they also know how to count.

Since time is a human invention, at least in the way we normally think of it, in terms of seconds, minutes and hours, it is quite common to wonder: Can dogs, or other animals, understand time in a similar way to how it is. do we do? In this article, we talk about the memory of dogs: how do they recognize meal times?

Dog memory: what does science say?

When studying cognitive memory in other animals, scientists look at two aspects of long-term memory: implicit and declarative memory.

In humans, implicit memory is sometimes called muscle memory . With this process, information that is used unconsciously is stored. Once we learn to ride a bike, tie our shoes or play the piano, we remember it forever without having to think about it.

Declarative or explicit memory stores information about events that happen or things they learn during life. Hence, it is made up of personal experiences.

This reservoir of explicit memories ranges from the multiplication operations we learned as children to the flavor of a fruit.

Until recently, declarative memory was considered an exclusively human trait, since it confers the ability to voluntarily bring to consciousness episodes or events of our life. Thanks to declarative memory we can relive experiences that happened a long time ago and tell or write about past events.


In summary, we can say that declarative memory lets us “know what”, while implicit memory lets us “know how”.

There are two subtypes of declarative memory:

1. Semantic memory

Semantic memory refers to all knowledge that we can evoke in an explicit way that has nothing to do with our memories.

Some examples of semantic memory are: understanding abstract concepts such as mathematics, knowing historical facts or recognizing objects. It is a personal database of world knowledge that we can voluntarily summon.

2. Episodic memory

Memory classified as episodic is what allows a person to remember past events or personal experiences. The information evoked includes what was happening, or where and when it happened. It requires the subject to manage three elements:

  • The subjective sense of time.
  • The consciousness of this subjective time.
  • The notion of a “self” that can be located in subjective time.

According to science, autobiographical memory can be considered as a sort of time machine that allows the conscience , at will, a mental journey towards the evoked moment. During this process, it is possible to revisit and relive the episodes of the past.

Since the premises on which this type of memory works require awareness, it is thought to be a unique trait of the human being.

The memory of animals

One of the non-pet tests that researchers have focused on is episodic memory. During these studies, it is tested whether the animal has the ability to bring back memories of memories to know how to respond in the present.

It turns out that dogs and other animals have implicit memories. These memories are used for learning through trial and error or conditional responses . Currently, there is still some uncertainty as to whether or not non-human animals have declarative memory.

The results of scientific tests

Scientists have studied episodic memories in monkeys, rats, bees and some birds, including crows, which have been shown to possess amazing cognitive abilities. This episodic memory would give them the ability to remember the basic facts of an event: what, where and when. The scheme for each animal is quite simple.

Suppose you give a chimpanzee two sealed opaque jars, each containing something to eat. One jar contains grapes; the other contains something that must be eaten within a certain time limit, such as a frozen cube that is about to melt.
After five minutes, the chimpanzee manages to open a jar. After an hour, the other opens. The test, performed several times, showed that most animals will first open the jar containing the thing to eat that is about to melt .

This means that they have learned from experience that if they wait too long, it will no longer be available. As a result, they have shown that they know three words: “what”, food; ‘where’, inside the jar; ‘when’, in five minutes or no longer available.

How does the memory of dogs work?

We know that dogs recognize people as the owner and events such as going to the park. However, we don’t know whether or not they can time travel in their mind – this remains an open question.

This is because man’s best friend has been little studied with laboratory experiments that are essential to understand his memory. So can dogs tell what time it is? Maybe, but we can’t say for sure. However, there are some interesting theories as to how they might do this.

There are two hypotheses (lacking scientific evidence) to explain your pet’s behavior at mealtimes.

1. The circadian rhythm and memory of dogs

Dogs have an internal sense that tells them when to sleep or when to be active. Perhaps it is their bodies, and not their minds, that can roughly detect what time it is. So if your dog is used to eating in the middle of the afternoon, his body will be cyclically hungry at that time.

2. The interpretation of the environment

Some animals are known to be able to interpret environmental cues. Perhaps dogs use the length of the shadows to indicate the time of day . It has also been thought that dogs can use their acute sense of smell to detect how long it has been since an event has occurred, by gradually decreasing the intensity of odors.

We just have to wait for further studies to learn more about dogs’ memory. Maybe someday, in addition to the many intelligent actions they are capable of, our dogs will also be able to recognize time.

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