Are dogs starting to watch more television?

Dog watching television Dogs prefer televisions at ground level, not hanging over the fireplace

A number of new television stations are opening around the world with programming specifically designed for dogs to watch. Does this make sense, asks dog expert Stanley Coren.

Many people report that their dogs completely ignore what is visible on television, while others report that their dogs are often captivated by events on the TV screen. Whether or not a dog pays attention to a TV programme depends upon a number of factors.

One important factor has to do with the way the dog's eye works. The canine eye is designed to efficiently detect movement. The image on a standard television screen is updated and redrawn 60 times a second. Since a human's flicker resolution ability is only 55Hz, the image appears continuous and the gradually changing images give us the illusion of movement.

Since dogs can discern flickers at 75Hz, a television screen probably appears to be rapidly flickering to them. A flickering image would obviously appear to be less real, and thus many dogs do not direct much attention to it.

Nonetheless, some dogs ignore the apparent flickering of the TV image and seem to respond to dogs and other images on screen if they are interesting enough.

Recently, changes in technology are beginning to increase the number of dogs that watch television. The increased availability of high-resolution digital screens that are refreshed at a much higher rate means that the images are less likely to appear to be flickering to the canine eye and we are getting more reports of dogs who are very interested in various nature shows that contain images of animals moving.

Still there are important presentation factors as well. Dogs are most likely to respond to images that have been captured at the eye level of a dog. A low camera angle where there are moving things like animals or birds is best.

Even if that requirement is fulfilled, most dogs do not watch television because the TV is normally placed at a comfortable eye level for human beings. Dogs do not tend to scan upward, and therefore do not notice the TV images up there.

Doggie day care centres sometimes use TVs to amuse their canine clients and they have found that the only way to capture the interest of dogs is to place the TV on the floor or a low platform.

People are sometimes surprised to find that although their dog responds when there is a dog on the screen, or perhaps some other animal running swiftly, it does not respond to cartoon images of dogs.

This really is a testimony to how good a dog's ability is to see and accurately interpret moving images. When a dog sees a cartoon canine he recognises that it is moving, but the movements of an animated figure are not a precise rendering of the pattern of movements of a live animal.

Therefore he sees something moving, but it is not a dog or any other real animal of interest.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books on dogs including Do Dogs Dream? and Born to Bark

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