If you live in a place in the U.S. that does Daylight Saving Time, I hope you remembered to set your clock back yesterday. However, I hate to tell you that this doesn’t mean you suddenly got a whole extra hour. You just got back the hour that “disappeared” back in March.
And, really, nothing actually changed except what your clock said. Every day still has 24 hours in it, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and everything goes on. Your dog may be a little confused by the change of schedule for a day or two, but to them all that’s happened is that you’ve suddenly started doing everything an hour later.
Humans are the only creatures on earth that run on clocks and calendars, which is why the time change is always a great opportunity to remember something very important.
Nature’s clocks are made by Nature. All of the plants and animals on the planet take their time cues from the intricate dance of three things: the earth, the sun, and the moon. Those three things are what give us our days, our months, our seasons, and our years.
If you were in a room with no windows and I told you, “It’s six p.m. Is it light or dark out?” would you be able to answer instantly? The answer depends on the time of year and your latitude. If it’s June and you’re not too far south, then it’s light out. If it’s December and you’re not too far north, then it’s dark.
In between, it could be either. Now, if you remember how seasons work, you could probably guess the answer depending on what time of the year it is, or how late or early it got dark yesterday. But those human answers are still based on artificial measures.
In the same situation, although without words, a dog would just know whether it was still day or night outside. They have a very strong internal clock that keeps the time.
People have asked me whether dogs can experience jet lag, and yes, they can. I’ve seen my dogs do it many times when they’ve traveled the world with me, although it seems to be worse going east than it is west — probably because going toward the sun makes the day seem shorter, while going away makes it seem longer.
At the same time, though, dogs get over it and make the adjustment a lot more quickly than humans do. I’ve had quick trips overseas where it seems like I never do adapt, while Junior seems to be ready and over it within a day or two at most.
But dogs also have a great psychological advantage: They don’t know they’re not supposed to be awake at three in the morning, so they don’t worry about it. Humans, though, know they’re “supposed” to be asleep in the middle of the night and get worried about it when they aren’t. If there’s one thing that’s great for inspiring insomnia, it’s worrying. Our own intellects and clocks and calendars help make the problem even worse.
This is where we can take a big lesson from dogs and learn to prioritize. In a dog’s world, all of the important things revolve around survival: protecting the pack, eating, sleeping, and relieving themselves. If there’s a stranger at the door, their favorite toy is suddenly not important.
For humans, we have pretty much the same needs with only a few exceptions. We definitely need to pay our taxes and rent or mortgages on time — but those, for us, are also survival things. But when it comes to other things, like seeing the latest movie, or knowing the score of that big game right this second, or dropping everything to answer an email immediately, well — nobody is going to die if those don’t happen right on time. You can put the toy down!
So when the stress of thinking you have too many things to do and no time to do them starts to get to you, remember how dogs tell time — not by minutes and seconds, but by hours and days. Remembering this can be especially important at this time of year as the holidays — and the stress that comes with them — approach.
Just keep in mind that you have time. You’re going to get everything done. Relax, and look at Nature, not the calendar.
Stay calm, and tell time like your dog!