By Katherine Tolford
If your dog has ever barked at other animals on TV or intently watched a football game, you may be wondering if it‚Äôs possible for him to share in your Game of Thrones or Dancing with the Stars addiction.
Do Dogs Actually Watch TV?
Julie Hecht, an animal behavior PhD student at The City University of New York, says dogs have so many reasons for barking we can‚Äôt know for certain if they‚Äôre reacting because there‚Äôs another dog on the TV.
‚ÄúDogs have a sort of mob mentality. When your dog hears a lot of noises happening at the same time, he may just join in. Barking isn‚Äôt typically a call-and-response thing. The bark at a stranger is acoustically different from an ‚ÄėI‚Äôm alone‚Äô bark,‚ÄĚ she says.
Clive Wynne, a psychology professor and Director of Arizona State University‚Äôs Canine Science Collaboratory, says it‚Äôs possible that certain visual images can draw dogs into TV.
‚ÄúStatic images don‚Äôt carry much weight. But certain movements do,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúA dog‚Äôs brain has circuits that fire when they see a galloping motion of another animal across the screen. Their brains are patented to respond to it. Although I strongly suspect a dog doesn‚Äôt know whether or not he‚Äôs looking at another dog.‚ÄĚ
Dogs are known for their superior sense of smell, but their vision is inferior to ours. When they‚Äôre watching that animal gallop across the screen, they‚Äôre seeing it in shades of yellow and blue (dogs can‚Äôt distinguish red and green).
‚ÄúMostly, I think what a dog sees on TV is a meaningless series of color jumbles until a sound with a special stimulus patches out,‚ÄĚ says Wynne. ‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs the sounds that appeal to dogs. They have much sharper hearing than we do.‚ÄĚ Wynne has observed his own dog react to the sounds of dogs barking, cats meowing and babies crying on television.
Aaron McDonald, an applied canine cognitive behaviorist and the author of Three Dimensional Dog, theorizes a dog‚Äôs socialization process may help explain his TV viewing habits.
‚ÄúWhen dogs meet, there‚Äôs about 90 seconds of exploratory behavior where they sniff rear ends and walk in circles around each other. They‚Äôre testing each other for compromise, territory and parenting skills,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúDogs watching TV are attempting to do this. They may bark at the TV to see if there‚Äôs a response. When they jump at the TV they‚Äôre looking for more info. They‚Äôre looking to smell, touch and engage in manipulation and skill assessment.‚ÄĚ
Dogs are selective in what they find interesting and entertaining. Just like us, each dog has his own individual preferences and strengths. Certain breeds like Greyhounds and Whippets are specialists in finding their prey by sight and speed. So they may have a higher inclination to react when they see moving images on the TV. But there‚Äôs been no research in the field of animal behavior that proves it.
‚ÄúSome dogs gaze‚ÄĒthey watch and focus on others. Some may learn about you by how you smell. Some are abstract thinkers who pay attention to situations and a sense of time,‚ÄĚ McDonald says.
Television Designed for Dogs
While it isn‚Äôt likely that your dog is going to fight you for the remote, he may be intrigued enough to sit still for an episode of doggy?content produced just for him.?DogTV, which has been available on a subscription basis since 2012, produces a range of shows that claim it‚Äôs possible to entertain your dog and alter his moods.
Hecht says it‚Äôs important to understand what specifically appeals to your dog before you park him in front of the TV.
‚ÄúEnrichment is in the eye of the beholder. What‚Äôs stimulating to one dog may not be stimulating to another,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs best to know what your dog responds to before you select images for him to watch on TV.‚ÄĚ
Hecht suggests using a video camera, if possible, to observe your dog while you‚Äôre gone. You may learn that he doesn‚Äôt stir when the mailman shows up, but that the garbage truck sets him off.
DogTV features scientifically designed content by leading pet experts that aims to soothe your dog‚Äôs anxieties and gradually train him to be more tolerant of upsetting sounds and situations.
‚ÄúThe only way training might work is by a process of habituation where you let the dog get used to a sound by frequently repeating what stimulates him,‚ÄĚ Wynne says. ‚ÄúIf, for instance, your dog is fearful of the vacuum cleaner you might play very low-level sounds of it while you‚Äôre gone. But you have to be careful‚ÄĒif the sound is enough to trigger his anxiety he could be trapped with it all day.‚ÄĚ
MacDonald is skeptical of using television as a teachable resource.
‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt put a lot of stock in it. The problem is that it‚Äôs all sight and sound and no touch. It‚Äôs a one-way street,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no back and forth. There are no consequences if a dog makes poor decisions, and no reward when he makes good decisions."
As for helping your dog to be more ‚ÄúZen‚ÄĚ Wynne says it‚Äôs possible.
‚ÄúA few small studies have shown that soothing music can have a calming affect on a dog. In nature, most species agree about what sounds are calming and what sounds are alarming. There is some level of cross species generalization,‚ÄĚ he says.
Dogs Unlikely to Binge Watch TV Like Humans
Whatever benefits dogs may get from watching TV it‚Äôs not likely they will develop couch potato tendencies like their human counterparts. McDonald believes TV can keep some dogs‚Äô brains occupied for a while but that they‚Äôre ultimately social creatures who likely see TV as a backdrop.
‚ÄúDogs are good at living in the moment," he says. "They may watch something on TV and then when the image is gone, they think ‚ÄėOkay, I‚Äôm leaving‚Äô and they move on. I don‚Äôt feel they have an urge to change channels."
Image:?Africa Studio?via Shutterstock?