Do Dogs Actually Watch TV?
If you’ve ever wondered whether dogs watch TV and which shows they like best, you’re in the right place! Here’s the answer to this canine mystery.
Have you ever been cuddled on the couch with your dog and noticed him fixate on something on the TV? Maybe it’s another dog, a bird, or some other animal, or just some action taking place in your favorite TV show or movie. It sure looks like your pup is watching TV, but is it your imagination? We know that dogs experience color and light differently than humans do, so their eyes don’t see things the same way. So, do dogs watch TV? It’s one of those questions about weird dog behavior that pet lovers are always curious about, so we asked pet experts to weigh in.
Do dogs watch TV?
The answer is basically a yes. Cherice Roth, DVM, Chief Veterinary Officer with the pet health care company Fuzzy, confirms that your pup’s apparent TV-watching habits are indeed the real thing. “Some dogs do watch TV!” says Dr. Roth, adding that dogs can actually become engrossed by what’s on the tube. “Much like with humans, [a dog’s interest will vary] based on their attention span and attention to motion.” Plus, depending on how high the volume is, they’ll also react to sounds on the TV—especially anything that sounds like their favorite squeaky dog toy—and may be fixated on that as much as the action on the screen.
Is it OK for dogs to watch TV?
Just because dogs can watch TV, does it mean they should? Albert Ahn, DVM, a veterinary advisor with Myos Pet, offers a qualified yes. “Many owners leave the television on to provide their dogs with a distraction while they leave for work or run errands,” he says, adding that TV can be a helpful tool to help reduce feelings of mild separation anxiety.
However, Dr. Ahn cautions that TV should not be used as a replacement for real owner-pet interaction. “Dogs are social animals,” he explains, “and they need interactions with their pet parents, as well as appropriate amounts of daily exercise.” So unlike your moody teen, who may be more interested in a smartphone than in your company, your dog always wants to hang out with you, whether that means going for a walk, playing a game of fetch, or just chilling on the couch at your side.
Dr. Roth highlights another potential issue: Some commercials or programming may emit sounds that are distressing to dogs. Typically, bothersome noises for dogs include explosions, gunshots, sirens, and crying, and TV sounds that are loud to us are even louder for dogs, thanks to their more sensitive ears—and sounds that are barely perceptible to us might really bother them. So if you’re leaving the TV on when you’re not at home, it’s a good idea to keep the volume low.
What does TV look like to dogs?
When it comes to watching TV, humans have a distinct advantage over dogs, mostly because we can see color, and dogs see only a very limited color range (though they do see in the dark better than we do). “It’s hard to say exactly what [TV] looks like for a dog,” says Dr. Ahn. “However, it is generally believed that because of the composition of the cones in the retina, dogs probably are only able to see two specific colors—blue and yellow.”
Dr. Roth agrees, noting that most dogs can see the movement of images and appreciate the sound, but they’re likely not able to interpret changes in colors. So if you’re looking for the right channel to entertain your pooch, live-action programs with noisy animals will probably interest them more than, say, a colorful cartoon like The Lion King.
Do dogs know that TV isn’t real?
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So we’ve answered the question of “Do dogs watch TV?” But what about their perception of TV? Do they understand that there’s not a “real” dog or cat romping on the 2D screen, or do they think it’s the real thing? “We have not been able to establish that pets can distinguish real versus fantasy,” says Dr. Roth. The only one who knows for certain is the dog himself, and he’s not telling.
Dr. Ahn agrees that it’s hard to know exactly what dogs think about television and whether it’s real or not. “But,” he says, “one might deduce that over time, dogs are at least able to sense that there is limited (one-way) interactivity with a television.”
Why do some dogs watch TV and others don’t?
Why does your best friend like action movies while you prefer to binge-watch Bridgerton? Because just like dogs, we all have different tastes and interests—though dogs’ interest in TV may have something to do with their breed. Dr. Roth says this mostly comes down to attention span and personality. Dogs with a strong prey drive (think Dobermans and other dogs that like to chase cats) “are sensitive to small environmental movements and are more likely to react to the movement on TV. Calm dog breeds,” she adds, citing Golden Retrievers as an example, “are less likely to be reactive and have their attention captivated by the TV.”
Dr. Ahn notes that the type of programming may also play a role in the dog’s level of interest. “For example,” he says, “a 24-hour news channel may be less stimulating to a dog compared with a channel that is broadcasting a dog show.”
Should you leave the TV on for your dog when you’re not home?
According to our veterinary experts, it depends. When you’re away from home, TV can be a useful way to keep your dog entertained and keep them from getting bored or getting up to mischief when you’re not around, as well as lessen separation anxiety. “There are several pet stations or music video stations that can be really great to keep a pet’s environment friendly,” says Dr. Roth. But if the channel plays a variety of content all day, she says there’s always a chance that something distressing to your pet might come on. “I’ve seen pets jump into TVs because they’re chasing something on a screen. Find out what your pet likes and keep to those channels. ”
And again, as Dr. Ahn has noted, the television shouldn’t be used as a replacement for the quality bonding time your dog needs with you. That said, if you want to connect with your pup when you’re away, you can set up Skype to answer calls automatically and “talk” to your dog via video call, or use the Barkio app to leave soothing messages for your dog. Just remember: This can be a comfort to some pets, but potentially a stressor to others who might get confused that their human magically appears onscreen and then disappears. And watch out—if your dog figures out how to call you at work, things could get a little awkward during your next staff meeting!