Dogs and Television: Why They Might Seem Interested

Has your dog ever stared raptly at the television, appearing to watch every second of a sitcom or commercial? Well, there’s evidence that they may actually understand some of what’s happening on the screen. Whether they bark at a personal injury commercial that includes a growling tiger or they seem to track the antics of another dog in a movie, your dog can perceive images on television and actually understand what they are seeing.

Sense of Sight Nearly as Strong as Sense of Smell

Dogs are known for their superior sense of smell. It’s why bloodhounds are used to detect drugs or find missing people. But, a 2013 study proved that a dog’s sense of sight is nearly as good as their sense of smell. In the experiment, dogs were able to visually recognize images of other dogs even when they were mixed with images of humans. Certainly, a dog’s scent wasn’t on the images, so the test subjects were clearly using only their sense of sight.

However, dogs see things much more quickly than humans do. That is to say, their brain registers the image faster, which means they would perceive the image of a dog on an older television as flickering instead of static. It would appear to them as an old 1920’s movie because the frames move so slowly to them. Dogs also see only yellow and blue colors, so their perceptions of the images would be extremely different from the full-color images that humans see.

Television for Dogs

The realization that television programs and commercials that feature other dogs has led to the development of an HDTV channel just for dogs. Appropriately named DogTV, this channel features various modes for different doggy situations that owners may need help with at home.

There is a calm mode, which depicts dogs in relaxing situations such as in the middle of a field; a stimulation mode, with images of dogs in exciting situations (surfing anyone?), and an exposure mode, that shows dogs responding to commands and uses sounds like the doorbell ringing to get pets used to these noises.

Different Dogs, Different Reactions

Of course, not all dogs respond to the television in the same way, or at all. Dogs are just as different from each other as humans are and these differences extend to how they react to certain stimuli. Some dogs get extremely worked up when they hear another dog barking on TV, so much so that they might run behind it to see where the dog is. But, other dogs don’t even raise their head when a dog starts barking in a commercial and can even tell the difference between a TV dog bark and a real one.

A dog’s breed may also affect how they respond to the television. Hounds are primarily driven by scent and may not react to images nearly as much as a herding dog, a breed that is highly dependent on its visual acuity to round up wayward cows or sheep.


Dogs don’t spend nearly as much time in front of a television as many humans do, but it’s clear that they may enjoy it from time to time, especially if another furry friend is on the screen.

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