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Do you feel like your dog watches TV? You're not alone. According to a 2021 Rover survey of 1,000 U.S. dog owners by Rover, 80% of respondents said their pups actively watch or react to what's on the television screen. And you may not be wrong about your individual dog. So, do dogs watch TV and, if so, why?
Yes, some dogs do watch TV. Dogs have the ability to see, hear, and interpret what's on the television. Not only can they perceive images and sounds on the TV, but they're intelligent enough to recognize onscreen animals and sounds. In fact, a 2013 study published in Animal Cognition demonstrated that dogs are able to visually recognize other canines, no matter the breed. This is why you may see your dog take an interest in the TV show you have on, particularly if it involves animals or animal sounds. That being said, dogs experience TV differently than we do and only watch for short bursts at a time.
A dog's vision is different than a humans. Because of this, they don't experience TV in the same ways that we do. Here are a few of the differences:
Contrary to popular belief, dogs see the world in color just like humans do, but with a more limited spectrum. The ability to see color comes from specialized photoreceptors in the retina called cones. When triggered, cones transmit a signal to the brain, which is then perceived as a particular color. Human eyes have three types of cones, while dog eyes only have two (called dichromatic vision). Humans have blue, red and green cones while dogs have a blue cone and one that falls between the human red and green. Because of this, dogs see fewer colors in less saturation than us and are more sensitive to low light conditions. Dog color vision is pretty similar to a person with red-green color blindness, though they are not considered color blind. They can see shades of blue and yellow that can combine to look grayish-brown, grayish-yellow, light yellow, dark yellow, light blue and dark blue.
Visual acuity is the sharpness of vision, measured by the ability to discern details at a given distance according to a fixed standard. While normal human vision is 20/20, dogs generally see closer to 20/60. In other words, your dog would need to sit two feet from the TV to see what you see at six feet. The more distance between your dog and the TV, the fuzzier the images will appear to them. This is potentially why some dogs sit or stand close to the television when it's on.
Dogs have faster motion perception than humans, which helps them more quickly detect visual changes in the real world (e.g. for hunting). This means that our dogs see the balls we throw at a slightly slower pace than we do. In terms of TV, this changes how they perceive the images. Television involves a certain number of frames per second the make up what we see. For moving video to not appear like a rapid set of images, humans need to see between 16 and 20 images per second. Dogs, however are closer to 70 images per second (or 80 for certain breeds, like Beagles). In other words, humans can't see the flickering of a TV above 55Hz but dogs can see it up to 75Hz. This means a TV displayed at 60Hz will look fluid to us, but appear as a set of images flickering quickly across the screen (like a flip book) to our dogs. Older TVs showed 50-60 images per second, but HDTV has enabled dogs to see TV fluidly like we do. This is why it's more likely for a modern TV to capture a dog's attention.
Some breeds have better visual acuity (or sharper vision) than others. This is because each breed and individual dog has a different shape and number of receptors. In addition, scent-oriented breeds like scenthounds may be less inclined to pat attention to the TV since they can't smell what's going on and are less prone to watch for movement. On the other hand, herding breeds are sensitive to sight and movement, so they they may be more inclined to watch TV. Terriers may also be more into TV since they were bred to hunt vermin and thus respond more to movement and noises.
Eye health can affect how your dog detects motion, differentiates colors and judges distance. For example, a senior dog with cataracts or some vision loss won't be able to see as well. Often though, their other senses become sharpened and the sounds of the TV may capture their attention even more then.
Personality also plays a part in whether your dog will watch TV. For example, if your dog loves people, they may respond to images of humans on screen. On the flip side, if they are territorial, they may be triggered by images of dogs.
Two factors to consider when thinking about leaving the TV on for your dog: what is normal for your dog and what program you'll use. If you usually have the TV on when you're home, it may be beneficial to leave it on when you're not. This provides your dog a sense of familiarity, particularly if you use the same channel you watch when home. When picking a program, you'll want to make sure it's intriguing or relaxing and not disruptive. Some ideas include:
Pro Tip: Make sure the volume of the programs isn't too high for your dog, given they have more sensitive hearing.
Whatever program you choose, try it out while you're home to make sure your dog actually enjoys it. Watch together for an hour or so and observe how your dog responds. If they respond well, it may be helpful for your dog when you leave. If they don't respond well, you'll want to try another program.
Another programming option for your pup is TV specifically made for dogs. The most well-known is called DOGTV - a 24/7 channel with special content tailored to our dogs' sense of sight and hearing. Their programs have more frames per second and colors more suitable to dogs. The episodes are three to five minutes long to accommodate a dog's shorter attention span. You can also choose from three genres - relaxation, stimulation and exposure (which is most useful for training purposes). The content mostly involves dogs, going off of the science that has proven dogs not only recognize other canines, but enjoy watching them.
All that being said, dogs can eventually become desensitized to TV so keep that in mind when watching TV with your dog.