Do Dogs Watch TV?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz July 18, 2020
Technology use in the pet industry is rapidly increasing. Many dogs are left home alone all day while their parents are at work. This has led researchers to look for ways to keep our pets entertained at home while we are away, such as providing environmental enrichment. An area of environmental enrichment that has been gaining more interest lately is sensory stimulation. This can include visual, auditory, or even scented stimuli. Many people have TVs in their homes which can provide visual and auditory stimulation, but will dogs actually watch and engage with a TV?
Do Dogs Watch TV?
In a survey conducted by The Kennel Club and Iams Co. they found that almost 50 percent of the dogs they studied showed some interest in the TV screen (Robins, 2005). Research continues to explore how animals interact with technology. To scientifically assess whether dogs watch TV, scientists have developed measures to track head and eye movement. Head mounted devices can track a dog’s eye movement in great detail (Williams et al., 2011) and cameras mounted behind a TV (Hirskyj-Douglas and Reed, 2014) can measure where the dog is focusing their attention. By measuring if and how the dogs engage with the TV screen scientists can measure what they prefer to view. Researchers found that dogs typically have a very low attention time to video and demonstrated a preference to glance rather than focus (Hirskyj-Douglas et al., 2017).
Why Do Dogs Like TV?
Dogs enjoy TV because it provides them with visual and auditory stimulation. Dogs that are left at home alone all day can be under-stimulated and under-exercised, and TV can provide some entertainment (Miklósi, 2014). To help address issues with boredom and anxiety, a specific channel called DogTV was created with content specifically created to appeal to dogs (DogTV, n.d.). Certain breeds like herding dogs and terriers are hard-wired to be alerted to fast moving objects and may be more likely to respond to stimuli on TV than breeds that rely more on their sense of smell such as bloodhounds and beagles.
Should I Leave The TV On For My Dog When I’m Gone?
Many dogs benefit from the TV being on when they are left home alone. The background noise from the TV can be comforting and familiar. Background music has been shown to be comforting to dogs. A study was conducted examining the impact of different types of music on shelter dogs. Researchers found that when classical music was played, dogs spent significantly more time being quiet and showed behaviors indicating they were calm and relaxed (Wells et al., 2002). Heavy metal music had the opposite effect, causing dogs to act agitated and restless (Kogan et al., 2012). Leaving the TV on when you leave the house can also significantly help dogs that suffer from separation anxiety (Landsberg, 2007). Dogs with separation anxiety fail to cope with the stress of being left behind, and they may start to panic. They often pick up on cues that their parent is getting ready to leave the house such seeing them put their shoes on, grabbing their keys, or turning off the TV. By leaving the TV on, owners can prevent one of the major triggers that cause a dog with separation anxiety to panic. Additionally, the TV can provide a point of distraction and may also provide comfort if soothing sound is playing. Moreover, dogs may also feel less alone if they can hear human voices chatting away in the background.
Can Dogs Learn From Watching TV?
While TV may not be able to teach our dogs new tricks (yet), they may still be able to learn a thing or two from watching it. TV has been shown to aid in socializing puppies. From around 2 weeks of age and up until 14 weeks of age, puppies experience a sensitive period for learning (Freedman et al., 1961). A study hypothesized that exposure to different environments through watching TV could reduce subsequent fear and anxiety. The results from this study showed that puppies exposed to both familiar and unfamiliar audiovisual playbacks for 30 minutes per day for 14 days during their sensitive period were more confident and willing to explore in subsequent tests (Pluijmakers et al., 2010). This suggests that TV may help puppies enhance their coping strategies that they will rely on for the rest of their life.
As for adult dogs, there is not much research on learning or training through video at the moment. There is a research study that demonstrated that trained adult dogs will respond to commands from video projected on a life size screen (Pongrácz et al., 2003). However, it is doubtful that dogs could learn new tricks through video alone. Training is an interactive procedure and needs to be paired with a reward system to be successful.
What TV Shows Are Best For Dogs To Watch?
When determining which shows are best for dogs to watch we need to consider both our dog’s preferences as well as their visual abilities. In studies measuring dogs’ preferences for visual stimuli, dogs preferred images of dogs the most. This was followed by images of other non-human animals and then humans. Dogs showed little interest in inanimate objects (Hirskyj-Douglas, 2013; Somppi et al., 2012). Another study showed that dogs were highly skilled at recognizing other dogs on screen. This included dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds (Autier-Dérian et al., 2013). The dog’s interest in TV peaked when an interesting sound or fast movement on the screen caught their attention (Hirskyj-Douglas, 2013). Shows that are most likely to encourage our dog’s interaction with the TV are those that tap into their most natural and intrinsic behavior which is play (Pons et al., 2015).
The design of interactive media for dogs have to also consider their auditory and visual processing abilities. Dogs are less able to distinguish changes in brightness so there is a need for higher contrast in the TV show. Shows should also take into consideration that dogs are best able to see colors in the blue spectrum (Hirskyj-Douglas et al., 2017). Finally, frame rate should be considered as dogs process images at a different rate than humans. Video, after all, is a series of images. At a high enough frame rate per second, the images appear to be moving fluidly. Video appears to be jumpy for humans at about 50HZ, and for dogs at about 75Hz. This means that dogs require a higher refresh rate in order for the images to appear smooth to them.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Enjoying A Show?
It can be difficult to measure how much a dog is enjoying a show. However, there are a few measures we can go off of. Measuring stress hormone levels and heart rate levels can give us a clue as to whether the show is calming or agitating to the dog (Rehn and Keeling, 2011, Geurtsen et al., 2015). Additionally, pet parents that know their dogs well can assess their behavior to determine whether or not they enjoy a show (Baskin et al., 2015). Some behavioral indicators that pet parents can use include:
- Dogs may orient their head towards the tv while sitting, lying, or standing. They may perk up their ears if something interests them or they may tilt their head indicating curiosity.
- Some dogs may get so excited by what is on TV that they will run right up to the screen.
- Dogs may play bow towards the TV screen. This is when the dog’s front-end of their body goes into a lying position while their back-end stays standing up in the air.
- Dogs may paw at the TV or at the ground in front of the TV.
- Barking, whining, or whimpering towards the TV could indicate interest. Vocalizations could be playful in nature, or they could indicate frustration or fear. Pet parents should read into the context of the situation and observe other behaviors to determine whether the dog is enjoying the show or not.
Can Too Much TV Be Bad For Dogs?
Similar to humans, too much TV can be bad for dogs. Dogs need plenty of exercise and social interaction with humans and other dogs. TV should never be used as a replacement for spending time engaging with your pet. However, TV can be a beneficial tool to help dogs relax when left alone or a shared fun experience with their human friends.
Based on dog parent experience and scientific research, it can be concluded that some dogs do watch TV. Certain breeds of dogs that have been bred to have well developed sight and a strong prey drive may be more likely to engage with TV shows. TV shows specifically designed for dogs that play dog, animal, and human content may be more enjoyable for your pet. Additionally, shows with high contrast, high frame rate, and images with blue colors may be easier for dogs to view. Finally, TV can serve as a tool to help expose puppies to new experiences, to calm anxious dogs when left alone, and to provide some additional visual and auditory stimulation to their day. So go ahead and enjoy a TV show with your dog.
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