Picture it: you’re curled up on the couch on Friday night, scrolling through the channels, when a scene with a barking dog pops on the screen. Suddenly, your dog’s ears perk up and they’re more attentive to what’s happening on the tube; your dog is reacting to this on-screen animal just as they would in real life!
This isn’t your imagination. Believe it or not, domestic dogs can perceive images on television just like humans do. They can also recognize sounds from the television, like barking dogs, birds, and other animals. But are they really understanding what’s going on?
In short, kind of – what your dog sees and perceives are different from how humans engage with television shows. However, they still can reap the entertainment benefits of watching your favorite shows with you!
What Impacts What Dogs Really See On TV?
Dogs process what they’re viewing on television differently than humans do, but they definitely recognize what they are seeing and hearing. According to a 2013 study by Springer Science + Business Media, dogs can pick out faces of other dogs, domestic and wild animal faces, and those of humans through visual cues – including television and computer screens. However, what they see differs because of their eyes’ genetic makeup.
Humans have three types of color-detecting cells inside our retinas. Dogs only have two, which means they have dichromatic vision. Dichromatic vision results in dogs being unable to differentiate between as many colors as humans can. They also see less saturation, and have more difficulty seeing in lower-light conditions. So while dogs are not completely colorblind (like a common myth suggests!) they do see fewer colors overall, making it a bit harder to see what’s going on on the TV.
Additionally, the “flicker factor” affects how dogs perceive TV shows. Humans don’t notice the flickering of a television screen because we can’t see “flickering” above a speed of 55 cycles per second. Because televisions display flicker speed at 60Hz on average, TV shows appear as a fluid motion to the human eye.
Dogs, in turn, have much better motion perception, and can notice flickering and motion up to rates of 75Hz – about 50% faster than the human eye. This means, while humans see television shows as continuous and gradually changing motion, dogs perceive it as an ongoing set of rapidly flickering images, making the on-screen movement appear to be less real. This is why many dogs don’t direct much attention to what’s on the screen at all, unless a sound – like a barking dog – catches their attention.
What Do Dogs Enjoy Watching?
Although images may not appear to truly be “real” to a dog’s eye, when paired with stimulating sounds, television shows designed for dogs can actually provide sufficient entertainment for your pup.
Dog TV, for example, has programs that have been created with the help of dog behavior specialists, and are designed to provide entertainment for dogs. This specific programming includes color-adjusted shows to appeal to a dog’s dichromatic vision, as well as shorter clips (3 – 6 minutes in length) to keep their attention span. The plots are less story-focused, and instead expose your pup to scenes of everyday life that they enjoy most – like door bells ringing, car rides, and scenes of dogs running through fields chasing frisbees.
However, you don’t need to increase your cable bill to find programming that your pup will enjoy. YouTube offers a plethora of dog-friendly videos and playlists that you can play on loop. Additionally, cable channels that have a lot of pet-friendly action, like Animal Planet and Discovery, can keep your dog just as entertained.
Keep in mind that, if you’re going to leave the TV on for your dog, regular viewing is fine so long as they’re getting enough outdoor exercise and attention. Sitting in front of a screen is not a replacement for outdoor play and exercise, but can be fine on occasion, especially if your dog experiences separation anxiety.
Turn the TV on before heading out the door for calming background noise and to potentially stimulate your pet’s mind, help them ward off boredom, and keep them happy and relaxed until you return home.