Humans sit in front of the TV for hours each day, catching up on the news, watching a movie or binging shows on our favorite streaming service. For pet owners, TV time may appear to be bonding time, too—your pooch and you might lie snuggled on the couch. Your pup may even pay attention to the TV every once in a while, forcing you to ask yourself, “does my dog actually watch TV?”
The answer to this question isn’t as black and white as it seems. Sure, dogs have the potential to understand and react to sounds and images coming from your living room television set. However, not all dogs do this, nor do they react in the same way.
Studies have shown that dogs are capable of recognizing images on the television—particularly those that are familiar to them, like other dogs.
However, a dog’s vision is quite different from a human’s. Where humans are trichromatic and see all colors, dogs only see blue, yellow and gray due to being dichromatic. This difference in vision can alter how your dog processes images on-screen, especially when they are designed for the human viewer in our favorite colors.
Additionally, dogs process images faster than humans do, so fewer frames per second may appear to be flickering rather than a smooth, continuous image. This faster processing time helps dogs notice sudden changes in their field of vision and may help them pick up on sudden movements on the television screen.
Interested or indifferent?
Dogs have the potential to react to images on TV in a million different ways. This is largely because dogs have different personalities. One pooch might get excited and run around when shown television images, while another might sit enthralled, and another still might ignore them altogether.
Certain breeds of dogs rely more on some senses than others, as well. Visually-stimulated dog breeds may have more interested reactions to television than those that rely more on their sense of smell. To tell if your dog will actually watch television, you may need to test it first and gauge their reaction.
Dogs also tend to get desensitized to the television after a while, since TV doesn’t provide the full range of senses your dog uses to communicate with the world around it, such as touch and smell.
Some people have developed television broadcasts designed specifically for dogs in order to hold their attention longer. For example, DogTV, an HDTV channel, is designed with more frames per second and is colored in such a way as to appeal to dog’s dichromatic vision. Some channels claim to be able to affect your dog’s moods and sensitivity to common sounds. Dog food and toy commercials have also tried primarily to attract the attention of the dog, not its owner.
Ultimately, most dogs have the capability to recognize and even respond to television images, but it is likely more of a reaction than a purposeful action. No research has shown that letting your dog have the option to watch television will do it—or your energy bill—any favors.
Other ways to engage your dog
Letting your dog watch TV may help it use its brain a little more and engage it mentally, but there are other, more effective ways of doing this besides TV.
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise, so whether you discover that your dog doesn’t pay attention to TV or it needs more mental challenges, try out some puzzle games or activities to help stimulate those brain cells.
- Puzzle games: There are tons of games and toys on the market that allow you to hide treats or rewards and let your dog figure out how to get to them. These make your dog work for the reward while being challenged.
- Social interaction: Take your dog to the dog park and let it interact with other dogs. Very little else provides better mental stimulation than a few close encounters with brand-new pooches.
- New tricks: As it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks! Work with your dog to get it to do something clever or follow a new type of command.
- Different experiences: Stimulating your pooch could be as simple as taking it to a new part of town with you to run errands. All the new sights, sounds and smells that it can actually investigate will leave it tired and fulfilled in no time.
While it won’t hurt your pooch to leave the TV on every once in a while, there’s not much evidence to suggest that your dog will actually sit down and watch it. Instead, take time to bond with your dog with fun challenges to make it happy and get its internal wheels spinning.