Why Does My Dog Watch TV?

Ever catch your dog staring at the screen?
Growing up, I always heard that dogs couldn't see the images on the television screen. I don't remember if I thought it was because dogs can't see flat images, or maybe because I thought they were color blind. It really could have been any number of reasons.

So now I wonder, as I see my little pooch lazily watching the large screen LCD TV in my living room and sometimes quietly barking if he sees or hears a horse, dog, or a bear on the screen: can he see the screen? Is he laying around all day while I'm at work, watching Animal Planet and eating dog biscuits? I can't see what he does when I'm not home, but I can try to figure out if my dog actually can watch the telly, and maybe even enjoy it a little bit.

First we have to consider the research.

Dog psychologists and veterinarians have been asked the question, and they say that the human eye and a dog's eye have a different level of ability to perceive moving images. TVs are just a series of flickering images that cycle at a high speed. The human eye can process those images at as low as 55 Hz or 55 flickers a second. The difference is that a dogs eye sees at least 75 to 80 Hz per second. This doesn't mean much with the high-res, HDTVs of today, but back when I was a kid, the common TV was the CRT (cathode ray tube) television. These were only created to show the images at 55 Hz, so dogs really didn't have much interest. That’s not to say that they didn't hear a dog barking on screen and see a blurry image, which made them react like they thought something was happening on that big box that they always see their owners staring at. My dog barks at the door for ten minutes every time some TV show or movie has the sound of a doorbell, and he hasn't lived in a home with a door bell for the majority of his life!

Nowadays, the new TVs can have images flickering very fast indeed, sometimes 100 to 120 frames per second, and some have incredibly high resolutions. Now a dog can see images much more clearly on the screen. Maybe even as well as, or better than we do! They have even been said to identify the difference between a real animal and a cartoon animal on the TV screen. Some studies have shown dogs to have no reaction to a cartoon dog like Snoopy or Pluto, but many will bark or sit up and generally show a lot of interest in a real animal on a nature show, or a film featuring a real dog, like Benji.

So that’s the first reason for your dog watching TV. The second may depend on the eye level that your dog sits when in front of a TV. Many people have reported that if their TV is low to the floor, close to a dogs eye level, the dog will be even more interested in it. This is because dogs tend to stay at their own eye level in everyday life. They don't look up as often as people since their nose keeps them low to the ground. A dog would also be very unlikely to look up at a TV screen for a long period of time, which is why they might show some interest in certain things, but won't very often sit attentively watching an entire episode of Lassie. If the TV is at their level, or they are otherwise at its level, like sitting in your comfy chair next to you, they will sometimes watch the TV for a while before getting tired and nodding off to sleep. After all, dogs can sleep up to 16 hours a day, so you may notice that they usually take your TV time to catch a few ZZZ's!

We also have to remember the difference in the color spectrum that our dogs can see. Dogs see fewer colors than humans, because the cones in the eye that recognize color are different for them. Humans can see three “levels” of color and dogs can only see two. This makes them have less attention to all that detail on the TV screen. Even with the high resolution of that big LCD TV, your dog will see some of the colors blurred together, and may not pick out all the images very well.

Lastly, dogs have short attention spans. Television is not made for dogs, or hasn't been until recently, so the shows and movies can't keep your dog's attention for long stretches of time. That is beginning to change, however. There have been channels completely devoted to K-9 viewing, launched in both the United States and Israel, by different companies and creators. These channels have shows that can hold your dog's attention and keep him company when you are away. Well, this is what we have heard, but we don't know anyone with the channel, so we really can't say what its like. It sounds like a neat idea, who knows?

Whatever the true case may be, I just hope I don't have to fight my dog over what we are going to watch tomorrow night!

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