By: Lilly Feinn/The Dodo It’s true that you won’t find your pup binge-watching “Game of Thrones” anytime soon (even with all the direwolves), but that doesn’t mean dogs don’t like TV — far from it.
While the TV-watching habits (and tastes) of dogs are quite different from our own, plenty of dogs take pleasure in watching TV, and, under the right circumstances, leaving the screen on while you’re away can even be beneficial for your pup.
When deciding whether or not to leave the TV playing for your dog, there are two things pet owners should keep in mind, explains Dr. Patrick Melese, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in San Diego — what the program is and what is normal for your dog in your household.
Those who tend to leave the TV tuned to a certain station as background noise when they’re home, be it cable news or a nature channel, should consider leaving the TV on the same channel when they head to work to make the transition easier for their pup.
“Part of what you’re trying to do is create an acoustical, visual environment that doesn’t rock their boat. Whereas if you shut down the TV, close all the windows, do all the things you do when you’re going to be gone all day, you’re giving the dog a lot of things they have to deal with,” Melese tells The Dodo.
No matter what station you choose for your dog, it is important to try it out first so you have an idea of what your pup will be exposed to while you’re away.
Melese suggests sitting with your pet in front of the TV for an hour or so to assess how they respond to a program. If all things go well, and your dog benefits from it, watching TV can help your pup forget that his beloved person is gone.
Why are our dogs so engaged with the TV images in the first place? If your dog tends to bark or become excited when he sees a fellow pup on the screen, it is, in part, thanks to advancements in TV technology. In the decades since TV first entered the home, improvements in our viewing experience have had a profound effect on our pets.
According to Melese, the reason is biological: Dog (and cat) eyes register images faster than our own, which means our pets need a higher rate of frames per second, or refresh rate, to see a complete image. When a dog watches an older television set, where the refresh rate is lower, the image appears to be flickering like an old movie. Similar to a person faced with bad reception, most dogs will just tune it out, or ignore the blurry television completely.
In today’s new golden age of television, this has quickly changed. “With the development of LCD displays, high-definition television and increased refresh rates, dogs and cats are starting to believe it because they see a fused image now — they don’t see all the moving lines,” Melese explains. “The more believable an image is to us, the more believable it is to a 2- or 3-year-old who doesn’t intellectually understand what it means yet, and, of course, the more believable it is to our animals.”
As images on the small screen become more realistic, dogs are more likely to react to what they see. When another dog appears on TV, some pets may believe there is an actual dog present in their house, and behave accordingly.
“If you have a dog that’s easygoing and loves other dogs, they probably are not going to react,” Melese explains. “They’re going to look at it and think, ‘Interesting, there’s a dog on the TV,’ but they’re not going to engage in jumping, barking or lunging because they don’t have that underlying behavioral condition. If they have both the behavioral reactivity and they think it’s a real image, you have that reaction.”
While our dogs cannot fully appreciate the current influx of critically-acclaimed programming, they can certainly appreciate the finer things, you know, like a really good pet food commercial.