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Do Dogs Watch Television? Yes and No
Sabrina with Remote
When polled, 87% of pet owners say their dogs do watch television. But your pet’s eyesight is very different than humans—so what exactly is Fido looking at?
If you get into a conversation with friends about the old TV shows like “Columbo” or “The Munsters”, the odds are your pet won’t join in the conversation. Television sets in the old days had very low resolution, and your dog’s retina couldn’t distinguish the images on the screen. But with today’s TV technologies and high resolution screens, dogs may be spending as much time in front of the “Boob Tube” as their human counterparts.
Dogs Have Different Retinas
In a well lit room, human eyes perceive color with specialized cells called cones (color receptors). As the light dims, rods (light and motion detectors), take over to help you identify motion in the dark. But your sight is limited in the dark, as anyone who has stubbed a toe on a night raid to the fridge can attest to. The darker the room, the less color your eyes can see.
Your pet’s eyes are anatomically different than yours. Dogs have more rods than cones and are masters of detecting motion. They have a limited color spectrum, and cannot tell the difference between green, orange, and yellow. They can, however, distinguish many differences in shades of gray that humans can’t identify. This is an evolutionary adaptation to nocturnal behavior that allows your dog to hunt and protect their puppies at night. This is why they can spot the movement of an intruder in a pitch black backyard.
You and Your Dog’s Eyes
Television images are displayed as frames per second. Each new image is refreshed quickly and your eyes perceive it as a smooth and continuous scene. In the past, TV sets had low refresh rates; 50 frames per second and lower. This low refresh rate produced a "flickering" effect across the screen. Over the years,TV got much more advanced. The data on the screen is refreshed quickly, creating a high resolution picture with no flickering effects—at least not to your perception.
Dogs have more rods than cones in their eyes and this makes it very difficult to watch TV. Cones are slower to update images than rods. Since dogs detect motion at higher refresh rates than humans, they don’t see a moving picture, but may see a TV screen that looks like a flickering light flashing over the screen. Some scientists suggest dogs see separate frames of images as the data is collected on the screen, much like a slide show.
New Hope for Dog Television
New television technologies, like LCD and HDTV, may refresh data fast enough to give your dog the full TV experience. At 240 frames per second, it may create fluid images that your dog can watch and enjoy.
The Debate Continues
Many pet owners testify that their dogs watch TV, especially when the subject is another dog. Others state their dogs ignore the television completely. Recently, The Dog Channel was launched for pouches that are left home all day by their working owners.
Still, even if a dog can’t identify what the object on the screen actually is, the moving objects can be interesting enough to keep his attention. The sound can also be alluring, but dogs are able to distinguish between real sounds and generated sounds—most of the time. Another factor to consider is that dogs use smell as their primary source of information, and smell-e-vision isn’t popular just yet.
Does your dog watch TV? What kind of programs does he or she like?