In the original 101 Dalmatians, the puppies gather around the television set and watch a TV show with dogs on it and really go nuts when a dog treat ad comes on the screen. While fiction, many dog owners can relate to the scene having seen their own pet get animated by a dog on television or rotate their head to look at a canine, cat or bird making noises onscreen. Science agrees that dogs do watch television. Furthermore, like humans, they have different preferences and can use television to entertain themselves and pass the time, which some marketers are now using to their advantage.
Research studies have shown that dogs view the images on a television similarly to the way people do. Canines can recognize onscreen images of animals just like they would in real life. They may not know the difference between a wolf and a husky on the small screen, but they recognize animals they know and recognize when they see animals they do not know. Likewise, they also recognize sounds on TV, whether a dog barking, doorbell ringing or other familiar sounds from their day-to-day lives.
A study published in 2013 showed that dogs can discern pictures of dogs in pictures of other animals and humans. They use their visual sense like humans do to identify familiar things in photos, just like on TV or recognizing a person or other dog they know by sight down the street or outside the window.
While research shows dogs do see – and comprehend – the images, different dogs react differently. They may run around, bark at the set, glance uninterestedly or just ignore it.
“Different dogs, like people, have different personalities,” according to Nicholas Dodman, who is a Massachusetts veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University. He notes that how dogs react depends on their personality and/or breed. “Some (dogs) are territorial, some are not; some like people, some hate people; some are predatory, some aren’t; some are pushy, some are shy,” he noted.
For example, many react excitedly to a barking dog on the set. Other may even run behind the TV to look for the dog they hear if it is off-screen. But others are desensitized and just occasionally glance at the set. Some of this is driven by genetics. Hounds react more to smell then visuals, but herding breeds are more stimulated by objects they watch.
Marketers are taking advantage of the research into dog TV habits. A dog food brand in the United Kingdom, Bakers, actually developed a TV commercial designed to get dogs interested and excited. They included high-frequency sounds in the TV spot that only dogs can hear.
Recognizing that many people leave the TV on when they leave home to keep their pet company and prevent boredom leading to mischief, there is actually a television station designed specifically for canine viewers – DogTV. The cable channel is designed to interest canines. It uses HDTV, which has a higher number of frames per second (which dogs react more favorably to) and is colored to appeal to a dogs’ dichromatic vision.
Scenes of canines at work and play may not be stimulating to humans (except maybe the annual Puppy Bowl), but dogs that do watch TV love them. So next time the dog seems to “accidentally” hit the buttons on the remote control, he or she might just be looking for something more interesting to watch.
By Dyanne Weiss