When I was growing up, we had a Labrador named Butch. Whenever we were watching TV and there was a loud noise, Butch would come to investigate. But he’d only look for a second or two for the source and then lose interest.
It wasn’t until I bought a terrier named Mandy for my daughter, and caught the two of them enjoying dog movies on TV together, that it hit me a dog can actually like watching TV.
It’s like one of those things that you never noticed until it hits you. You see dogs reacting to the TV all the time these days, but they definitely didn’t in the CRT TV days.
Being a lifelong dog lover that got me to do some digging and figure out what exactly allows dogs to see and react to TV now. Here’s what I found.
What Dogs See When They Watch TV
If you have a dog, you may have noticed it paying attention to something you’re watching on TV. When I noticed this with Mandy, I wanted to understand what she was thinking and, more importantly, what she was seeing. Do dogs see TV the same way we do?
People don’t give animals enough credit for intelligence in my opinion. Dogs can and do understand and react to visuals and audio on a TV screen. A lot of this is due to how much modern television has evolved from the early cathode ray tube models.
These days, TVs have much higher resolutions, more vibrant colors, and networks broadcast their content in much the same way. The pictures we see on the screen are clearer than ever before. Both to us and to our furred friends.
Evidence That Dogs React to Images
In 2013, the National Veterinary School in Lyon, France, conducted a study into understanding animal cognition in dogs. The study found that dogs can, in fact, recognize dogs among pictures of various species, using only visual cues.
It doesn’t matter what breed the dogs in the pictures are, a dog can still recognize its own species visually. We know that like-species intermingle for social interaction. In dogs, we can add it to the need to breed, which allows them to pick out their own species from among different animals, as well as humans.
Dogs and Modern TV
Note that this was way back in 2013. Today, I leave DogTV on for Mandy whenever I head out to work in the morning so she stays entertained and doesn’t miss me too much.
DogTV is an HDTV channel that is specifically tailored for canine optics. Meaning it has colors that dogs can see and register more clearly. It also has a higher fps rate than human TV channels. Both for two very good reasons.
As it turns out, dogs process and react to visual cues much faster than humans. A dog’s vision is therefore very different from a human’s.
A higher frame rate per second, therefore, allows them to process a more coherent and fluid picture. Older TVs had a much lower frame rate and would appear like a flickering picture book to canine eyes.
The second reason is even more interesting. Dog vision is very different from human vision. Humans have trichromatic vision, which allows them to see the full range of colors.
Dogs, on the other hand, have dichromatic vision, which means they can only see in shades of blue and yellow. Channels like DogTV have colors to match a dog’s dichromatic vision.
How Dog Vision Works
Certain breeds of dogs, such as terriers watch TV more intently than other breeds. But essentially, dogs have a visual information processing system very different from human beings. Here’s how dog vision actually works:
Doggy Depth Sensation
People’s ability to form a 3-D worldview by processing 2-D cues is known as human depth perception. However, dogs lack the cognitive reasoning ability that humans have to identify similarities of experiences. Dogs use depth sensation to pinpoint objects in their view.
Binocular vision, thanks to evolution, allows vergence in some species. That means they can move both eyes in the same direction simultaneously. Things in close view cause an ocular convergence. Far off objects cause ocular divergence. A dog’s eyes make use of this vergence to overlap two different images and “sense” depth.
What this means is that dogs can understand that the images on the TV screen exist on another plane, not in the same room. However, that doesn’t prevent curious pups from watching with interest.
Canine Field of View
How different parts of a visual plane are seen at a specific moment in time is known as the field of view. Larger dogs are predatory animals. As such, they tend to have a narrower field of view than their prey.
Prey animals tend to have a virtually 360-degree field of view as an evolutionary response to see and escape from predators. This would explain why some smaller breeds react quickly to moving pictures in their field of vision than many larger breeds.
Dogs are more capable of noticing a moving object from a distance than humans. This is because a dog’s eyes have fewer cones than human eyes. That means canine eyes are more sensitive to lower light situations.
Since they can see movement better than many other species, dogs can react to images on the TV. They may need their curiosity piqued before they start paying attention to what is on TV though.
Thanks to faster screen refresh rates on new TVs, dogs are able to see a clear picture of whatever you are watching. Of course, Mandy may not be able to decide if she wants to watch Benji or Air Bud on Optimum movies, but any dog content certainly keeps her interested.
The way dogs react to TV depends a lot on their breed as well as their individual personality. But the fact remains they can see the action going on TV, even if they don’t completely understand it.
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