Have you ever sat down to watch TV and relax with your canine companion by your side? If so, you might have heard your dog bark, growl or show behavioral responses to what they see on TV. All dogs react differently but most breeds seem to have some kind of response to watching images on the screen. While they might appear to be communicating with the TV or maybe even showing like or dislike towards what they see, scientists are unsure if dogs actually have preferences or can understand what’s going on.
So, if you’ve seen a reaction from your dog towards the TV it could be a little bit more complicated than them barking at the bad characters. Many dog owners claim their precious pooch can see other dogs on TV and will mirror the on-screen behavior. While there isn’t much scientific backing for this, it seems to be a popular phenomenon and is worth exploring further.
Let’s have a look to see if dogs really can watch TV, if they understand it and how you can use this to train your dog!
Can Dogs See What’s Happening On-Screen?
Before we look at how your dog understands and makes sense of the images it sees, it’s important to look at why they see them differently. Afterall, our eyes work very differently than a dog’s, so we see and process images very differently. While we have trichromatic vision (we see three primary colors, red, green and blue), dogs have dichromatic vision (their primary colors are yellow and blue) which means they can’t see pixelated images the same way we do. TV images are comprised of red, green and blue pixels meaning every other color we see is purely a combination of those primary colors. Our eyes allow us to differentiate between minutely contrasting shades, tones and hues. Unfortunately for dogs, TV wasn’t designed for dichromatic eyesight so the images they see are likely to be blurry smudges on a screen which don’t make too much sense.
Director of Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory, Clive Wynne, states, “Static images don’t carry much weight. But certain movements do.” Clive also states that, while it’s unlikely that dogs can see other dogs on screen, they can recognize a “galloping motion of another animal”. So, it’s unlikely your dog can see exactly what’s going on or distinguish between different characters or animals, unless there are large movements in solid colors.
Then Why Do Dogs React To The TV If They Can’t See The Screen?
Sure, it doesn’t seem to make much sense for dogs to react the way they do if they can’t see what’s happening, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Although their eyesight isn’t great for watching TV, dogs have incredible hearing ability and are probably reacting to sound more than sight. Dogs have highly developed hearing and are intellectual animals with complex emotional capabilities. When they hear loud sounds from the TV, they might become startled, aggressive or curious, but this entirely depends on the specific dog and its personality. This reaction to sound is natural and instinctive as both domesticated and wild dogs have highly developed hearing which helps them to learn, make decisions and stay safe.
While some dogs may react to very loud scenes on TV, others may react to scenes with music and rhythm, or maybe even nature sounds. It’s more likely that dogs react to sounds of other animals on-screen than the sight of them. If the scene is tense with loud noises and has lots of animals making sounds, your dog may react for defensively or aggressively. If the animal is making whimpering or other quiet sounds, your dog may react curiously or sympathetically. Although every dog is different and their reactions are likely to vary greatly, these examples show generalized responses you might witness from your dog.
Should Dogs Watch TV?
Put simply, there is no real right or wrong answer to this question as it is entirely personal and depends on your dog’s reaction. If you’ve noticed your dog tends to react negatively (aggressively or stressed) when the TV is on, you might need to reconsider having movie nights with your canine companion. However, some dogs don’t show any interest in TV whatsoever. If this is the case for your dog, then you should be able to enjoy movie nights or binge-watch series with your fluffy friend by your side. Just don’t be surprised if they get bored after a while and demand a walk.
Believe it or not, there’s even a TV channel specifically for doggy use called ‘DogTV’! While there hasn’t been any conclusive research carried out regarding dogs’ responses to this channel, some owners claim it works well while it doesn’t work so well for others. It’s important to understand your dog’s personality and what makes them tick when using this channel. They have specific programs for dogs that like loud noises and busy scenes and others for dogs who prefer quieter and calmer nature sounds. If your dog doesn’t mind watching some of your movies or series, then this might be worth trying!
As we’ve learned, the images from TV don’t always interest dogs as they’re more interested in the sounds being made. For this reason, TV isn’t engaging to all dogs as they simply become bored without visual or other physical stimulation. Instead, the sounds they hear just become interesting background noise. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. In fact, some researchers suggest that using TV sounds or music for dogs (yes, that actually exists!) as background sound, your dog may become more engaged in activities like playing or training within the home. You could even use the quiet and calm nature sounds to relax a stressed or anxious pup or to make them more enthusiastic to play and socialize if they’re quite shy.
Although DogTV exists and some dogs show signs of reacting to particular scenes or characters they see on-screen, it’s unlikely that they actually see that’s going on. Instead, dogs rely on their powerful ears to hear what’s happening which results in their response. If you haven’t tried it and are curious, why not try DogTV or put on some dog music to see your pup’s response? They might be entertained by the experience and even more enthusiastic to play and socialize!