Can dogs actually see TV? Is Fido really catching up on his favorite shows when you see him sitting on the couch staring at the tube? Find out the answer from our special guest Ben Team from Pet Wellness Advisor!
The Couch Potato Pooch: My Dog Loves to Watch TV
About three months after welcoming a new Rottweiler puppy into our home, my wife and I noticed something strange: Our puppy would occasionally appear to be interested in the television. She’d be running along, playing with her toys, before abruptly dropping what she was doing and turning her attention to the TV.
My wife immediately assumed she was watching television, but I remained skeptical. Surely, she must have just heard something interesting coming from the TV and turned to look in that direction. After all, I’d had plenty of dogs throughout my life, and I was pretty sure none of them were interested in the TV.
But soon enough, it became obvious that she was, in fact, watching the TV. For example, she’d perk up at the sight of a cat or track the movement of a dog walking across the screen. Sometimes, she’d even get up and go look behind the TV to see where this unfamiliar dog went. But her interest seemed to rise above the level of curiosity; she seemed to actually enjoy watching TV.
Also, for those of you keeping track, it meant that once again, my wife was right and I was wrong.
Can Dogs Actually See TV?
Until about a decade or so ago, the TVs in most homes were of the low-definition variety. While the images they produced looked pretty good, they couldn’t compare with the high-definition images that grace modern flat screen TVs. The differences between these old and new TVs turned out to be even more pronounced for our four-footed friends.
Most people understand that the picture on your television refreshes many times each minute. This is what allows it to create moving images from single-frames of film. But few people understand that their own eyes also “refresh” periodically. However, because manufacturers want people to enjoy watching TV, they’ve long been made with a faster refresh rate than our eyes exhibit. This means that the image looks realistic and the movements portrayed on the screen appear fluid to us.
But our dogs have eyes that refresh more often than ours do. This means that the dogs your grandparents and parents owned would have seen the images projected on the TV as being jumpy, rather than fluid. For example, instead of seeing a horse galloping across the screen like you would, these dogs of yesteryear would only see a jittering sequence of images that bore almost no resemblance to a galloping horse.
This meant that dogs of days gone by were typically uninterested in that flickering box their owners seemed to stare at for hours. However, modern, high-definition TVs typically have very fast refresh rates – some refresh twice as quick as these older TVs did. This means that the images of many newer TVs look natural to dogs, and many of them are starting to take notice.
TV Is a Powerful Distraction
Once we noticed that our dog liked watching TV, my wife and I started encouraging her to do so. My wife simply loves how cute the pooch is while tilting her head from side to side as she tries to understand the strange images she’s seeing, and I’m always keen to ensure our pup has plenty of mental stimulation.
So, a couple of times a week, we’ll turn on some dog-friendly programming (usually something with dogs and cats in it) and enjoy some TV time as a family. The pooch is only interested in watching TV for about 15 minutes or so, but during that time, she remains completely captivated. Occasionally I do have to grab her and prevent her from tackling the TV – especially when a small, yapping dog is looking directly into the camera. But most of the time, she just sits there transfixed by what she sees.
However, TV also represents an important management tool from time to time. I work from home, so my pup gets plenty of attention from her pa. However, that doesn’t mean I can always drop what I’m doing and interact with her the way she’d like. Normally, this isn’t a problem – she just sits out on the patio, watching the world go by.
But my pup does not take kindly to other dogs walking through her neighborhood. So, about three or four times a day, she turns into a whining, snarling, barking ball of chaos when she sees other dogs outside. If I have a few minutes to spare, I’ll redirect her attention by playing with her for a minute or giving her some well-deserved haunch scratching. But when I don’t have the time, I’ve learned that I can distract her by simply turning on the TV and playing something with animals in it.
That will invariably cause her to stop barking, and she’ll go and plop down right in front of the TV for a while contently. Problem solved.
Of course, dogs exhibit various degrees of interest in watching TV. Some appear to love it, while others seem unimpressed by the technology (or perhaps the programming content, it is hard to be sure). I’ve noticed that my pup loves watching animals more than anything else, but they must be real animals – CGI critters do nothing for her.
What about your pooch? Have you ever encouraged her to watch TV? Does she have anything she prefers watching over other alternatives? Let us know in the comments below.
Ben Team is a dog lover and an environmental educator who values the role animals and pets play in our natural world. You can read more by Ben on Pet Wellness Advisor, a site devoted to helping your dogs and cats stay happy and healthy!