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What Dogs See When They Watch TV

Is Animal Planet really their favorite channel?

by Daniela Lopez
November 17, 2021
Woman sitting on couch with dog laying on lap watching TV
Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

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If you haven’t already left an episode of Ted Lasso on for your pup while you’re running errands, you’ve at least wondered: “Would this show keep my dog company?” And you’re not alone: According to a Rover study, two-thirds of pet parents leave the TV while they are away during the day, 60% say their dogs have a favorite show, and and 80% report that their dog reacts to what’s happening on the screen. But are dogs really watching TV?

How Do Dogs See TV?

Dogs process televisions and screens differently than humans do, but it turns out they do often recognize what they are seeing and hearing. Some dogs couldn’t be bothered to watch TV, but, in other cases, pet parents report that their dogs are enthralled by screens. When it comes to the subject matter, you won’t be surprised to learn that dogs like watching other dogs. Animals are naturally drawn to their own species.

However, dogs see the world differently than we do: In a dog’s eye, there are two types of cones versus three in humans, which gives them dichromatic vision. The result is that dogs do not differentiate between as many colors as (most) humans. In addition to that, dogs are much more sensitive to low light conditions.

Beyond color, different breeds of dogs have varying visual acuity. The visual streak in the canine eye is the area with the sharpest vision. But each breed and individual dog has a different shape and number of receptors. The differences in this eye structure play a huge role in how dogs see the world.

Next up is the flicker factor. On average, humans don’t see the flickering of a television when the speed is above 55 Hertz (Hz). But for dogs who have better motion perception, they’ve been tested on rates up to 75Hz. With televisions being displayed at 60Hz, we see this as a fluid motion, but dogs would see the television as a set of rapidly flickering images.

Nowadays, our modern televisions (and phones) have high-resolution pictures and clear audio, which offer our pups a clear view into another world. Modern HD/4K TVs are refreshed at a much higher rate, allowing dogs to view fluid motion. Sounds can also have a significant impact on a dog’s viewing of television. As most pet parents can guess, studies have found that pups were more attentive to video that includes barking, whining, and sounds of praise.

Television for Dogs

DOGTV was launched in 2012 to address these unique TV-watching needs. The 24/7 channel has more frames per second, shows colors that are more favorable to a dog’s vision, and is tailor-made for stay-at-home pups. According to DOGTV, the network is “scientifically developed to provide the right company for dogs when left alone. Through years of research, specially designed content was created to meet specific attributes of a dog’s sense of vision and hearing and support their natural behavior patterns. The result: a confident, happy dog, who’s less likely to develop stress, separation anxiety or other related problems.”

Do Dogs Like Watching TV?

Even with a specially made channel, dogs tend to watch tv for only short bursts of time, usually just glancing at the TV. But some dogs are more reactive to TV than others. Herding breeds, for example, often watch television with more intensity because of their attraction to moving objects. Veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University, Nicholas Dodman, was the lead scientist on the DOGTV project. In an interview with National Geographic, Dodman explained why some dogs react to television and others don’t. “Different dogs, like people, have different personalities,” Dodman said. “Beyond biology, how dogs react to TV—whether it’s running around, barking excitedly, or just ignoring it—may come down to personality or breed.”

We know dogs can see, hear, and interpret what is on the TV — but do dogs like watching TV? That’s another story and a question for which science still doesn’t have an answer.

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daniela lopez

Daniela Lopez

Daniela Lopez is a digital media specialist and long-time contributor to The Bark.