Dogs And The Time Change

Setting clocks back creates challenges
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2018

Look, I don’t care what the clock says. We both know it’s time for dinner.

Millions of people enjoyed an extra hour of sleep this weekend courtesy of the switch from daylight savings time to standard time. In my state of Arizona, only people who live on the Navajo Nation fall back an hour, and nobody in Hawaii does, but most of the country observes this semi-annual clock-changing ritual. Even if you are in that majority, it may have been irrelevant as a dog guardian. That extra hour of sleep is a human construct and a lot of dogs are having no part of it. Their circadian rhythms override our clocks and most of them probably got up at the crack of dawn as usual, ready to start the day.

Similarly, dogs are not generally keen on waiting an extra hour—morning or evening—to be fed just because of some time-changing policy that we have no way to communicate to them. A photo of two dogs making the rounds on social media illustrates the canine point of view well. One dog says, “Ok. Explain it again. It feels like five o’clock dinner time but it’s really four o’clock?” The second dog simply says, “This is bulls***!”

It’s typical for dogs to need a couple of days to adjust after the time change, but some dogs take longer. Dogs with a strong internal clock are heavily influenced by sunrise, sunset, and predictable feelings of hunger. As those cues still happen, dogs who respond to them tend to struggle with the new schedule. Some dogs are also highly schedule oriented but they respond to human cues—the alarm clock, people getting out of bed, the sound of food being put in the bowl—and they are often able to adapt more quickly to the craziness of humans messing around with clocks.

It can be helpful to dogs to meet them in the middle as they adjust to the time change. If you can break up the hour difference and only adjust their schedule—walks, feeding time, bedtime and waking up—by 15-30 minutes each day, it may be easier for them. Of course, if your schedule does not allow that kind of flexibility or you find that your dog gets in line with the new daily rhythm within a few days anyway, it may not be worth the extra effort. For the rare dog who struggles for a long time with the time change, breaking up the hour into smaller pieces for a more gradual adjustment can be a great kindness.

How does your dog respond when you change your clocks?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.