DogTV. Who Is It Really For?

by Susi on August 6, 2013

in DogTV, Flicker rates, HSUS, Television, Westminster Kennel Club

Post image for DogTV. Who Is It Really For?

When Westminster Kennel Club invited its Facebook and Twitter fans to submit pictures of their dogs watching the dog show on TV last February, an astonishing number of photographs – nearly 1,000 – was received.  Some of the photos were taken by owners with a somewhat “generous”  interpretation of a dog “watching” the dog show: their dog’s body was pointed in the general direction of a television set. Other photos, however, left little doubt that the dogs seemed keenly interested in what was appearing on the screen.

 

WKC photos reprinted with permission

Do dogs really watch TV?

One poll revealed that 87% of dog owners believe their pets do watch TV, while nearly half of those questioned in a survey conducted by the AKC and IAMS dog food indicated that their dogs had shown interest in what was happening on TV. YouTube has over 5,000 videos of dogs watching TV, and some owners report that their dogs have highly discriminating tastes, if not favorite TV shows as indicated by their excitement at hearing the program’s familiar theme music.  In one incident, dog owner, “Laurie,” played a video taken at her breed’s National Specialty which her dogs largely ignored –  that is, until she appeared on the screen. Her dogs not only stared at the “television version” of their mistress, but afterwards, came to where she was sitting and stared at the “real” her as if puzzling over how she could be in two places at once. “Spooky” was how Laurie described the moment.

Despite polls, surveys, and anecdotes such as Laurie’s, dogs exhibiting interest in what appears on television has been puzzling to anyone familiar with “flicker rates” in dogs.

Perhaps the simplest way to describe “flicker rates” would be to use silent movies as an example. We’re all familiar with the stuttering effect of old movies, often called ‘flickers’ (or flicks) not because the movies flickered, but because in those days, the butterfly-shaped projection “shutter” alternated at a rate that was discernible to the human eye which can detect flickering movement at a rate of 50-60 Hz. In dogs, that same ‘flicker fusion rate’ is as high as 70-80 Hz.  What a human sees on television as continuous motion, a dog sees in separate flickering frames making the images on the screen appear less real. Put another way, dogs shouldn’t be interested in television because they don’t see what we see, but rather, something more like a slideshow powered by a dim strobe light. As Alexandra Horowitz explains in her book, Inside of a Dog, canines “see the individual frames [in TV] and the dark space between them too.” Of dogs that do show interest, science’s explanation is that they’re simply responding to rapidly moving images. Canines not only see motion better than we do, but they can recognize familiar objects on the basis of their motion patterns alone.  Dr. Stanley Coren says, “It explains why dogs may respond to…television images of dogs moving, but do not act as if they’re seeing a canine at all when they’re looking at a cartoon dog.”  If the sound of barking comes from a television set and a dog in the room sees movement on the screen suggestive of a dog, by golly, the dog is going to investigate what he suspects is a dog in the box.

That was then.

New technology is changing much of that. Flat screens, HDTV, 3-D televisions and new LCD technology provide a refresh rate on newer televisions that’s now 100 Hz and higher – perfect, it’s said, for canine continuous viewing.

Which brings us to DogTV.

“There is increasing evidence that dogs and cats watch television. We should start programming right now so in 20 years, they could become regular viewers.” Network executive, Preston Rhinelander played by Robert Michum in the film, “Scrooged,” from 1988. 

Who knew that Robert Michum’s character was prescient. Programming for dogs has, in fact, arrived. This month, satellite operator, Direct TV, launched DogTV, a 24/7 channel designed specifically for dogs.

Operating on the fact that people have been leaving the radio or television on for their dogs for years, Jasmine Group, the Israeli production company behind Dog TV, went one step further and created a channel dedicated to dogs (also available through online streaming and Roku boxes). For $4.99 per month (free until August 10th), the channel provides programs with music, visuals, animation and the occasional human designed to relax, stimulate and ease the loneliness of home-alone pets.

The programs were developed with input from Professor Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and director of clinical sciences at Tufts University in Massachusetts, British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, and animal rights activist and trainer Warren Eckstein. The videos were shot mostly in San Diego and Israel, and the veterinarian-approved music was written and performed in-house. Visually, the segments emphasize yellow and blue colors which dogs see better than reds or greens. After three years of research and focus group testing, the result is programming made up of  three – to six-minute clips organized into three different categories: relaxation (designed to soothe dogs), stimulation (designed to encourage dogs to be playful) and exposure (designed to exercise the brain with day-to-day stimuli). You won’t hear much barking, however, since testing found that dogs didn’t like barking coming from a television set, so they removed almost all it.

In the “Exposure” segments,  a variety of situations potentially disconcerting to a dog are shown while a brief tip on how to on desensitize a dog scrolls across the top of the screen.  One such piece, for example, showed a family playing a board game, their dog clearly uncomfortable with the rolling of dice. The family petted the dog as they continued to play and gradually, the dog adjusted.

Dog TV and Direct TV signed a multi-year carriage agreement, and if Dog TV is a success domestically, Jasmine Group hopes to expand internationally. “It’s an advantage of the channel that we can move the content to any country because the language is not significant,” says Yossi Uzrad, president of Jasmine Group. Because the group owns all the rights to the content, Uzrad foresees other growth opportunities. “People can buy Dog TV music and put it in the car while they’re driving, for example,” he says.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) hasn’t taken an official position on DogTV, and through their spokesman said that while any relaxation and stimulation for pets is good, it doubted that all dogs will take to it.  The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), meanwhile, endorses the channel and Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO says, “It’s about bringing enrichment and social stimulation to dogs when people are gone.”

And then there’s Slate on-line writer, Ryan Vogt, who wrote, “Your dog will not like DogTV unless you tape a Snausage to your flat-screen.”

I’ve had the television set to this channel for days, and so far my dogs have been exposed to footage of grassy fields, a dog going to the vet, bubbles, flowers, a panting dog, bouncing balls, people jogging in a snowy park and (in a segment that did nothing for me) a centipede crawling on foliage.  Soothing New Age music has been wafting through the house and if I get any more relaxed, I’m going to drip off my chair.  The dogs, on the other hand, could care less. They looked at the television screen once. It was when the creepy-crawly centipede was on and they barked to make sure I saw it. Thanks, guys.

So what do I think?

Exposing a pet to muted versions of everyday noises like vacuum cleaners, doorbells and giggling children is a time-tested method for reducing the animal’s fear of them, and that’s a good thing. Offering tips to dog owners on how to help a dog get desensitized is also a good thing. Some people love it, and some people think it’s a waste of money.  As I see it, DogTV is harmless.

So what does the cynical me really really think?

I think it’s a brilliant business scheme targeting millions of “pet parents” who’ve been treating their dogs like kid substitutes. Since this demographic already buys dog strollers, dog high chairs, and dog clothing, the only thing missing has been a TV channel for their dogs, and now they have that, too. Gilad Neumann, CEO of DogTV said: “U.S. dog parents really love their dogs, they treat them pretty much like their kids. We believe [this] will be a great solution for the millions of dogs that are left home alone all day.”

So in the year 2013, dog owners are “pet parents. Dog owners treat their dogs like kids (would these be the same kids baby-sat by a television set, addicted to video games and supplying the statistics for childhood obesity?), and millions of dogs are left home alone all day. DogTV producers have said that DogTV is not a substitute for affection and exercise, but child experts have also said the same thing about children and television and we know how that worked out. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that DogTV, at some level, assuages the guilt that some of these folks have about leaving their dog home all day?

Then, too, was this comment left on the Bloomberg Businessweek web site which made reference to the endorsement by the HSUS in its review of DogTV:  “Veterinary associations like the Humane Society”? You mean lobbying groups like the Humane Society of the United States, which gives less than 1% of it’s fraudulently obtained income to pet shelters?  I hope DOG TV makes money, but they have little credibility as long as they feature HSUS in their online promotion.  If DOG TV execs think HSUS has 11 million members, as it claims, the real number is under one million.  11 million potential customers?  No way.  You’ll never make a profit if you associate yourselves in any way with this horrible fake charity.”

At the end of the day, I still maintain that DogTV is harmless as a practical matter. Most of us have to leave our dogs home for varying amounts of time, and if the dog is comforted by a radio, the Housewives of Dallas, or DogTV, who does it really hurt?

Used in moderation and not as a substitute, DogTV is probably harmless. What concerns me is its implications.

 

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Denise Rusconi August 6, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Thanks Susi for looking into DogTV. You did a wonderful job. My dog watches DogTV when I put it on and it’s fun watching him watch it, but I would NEVER pay extra money to get it. I’m recording it while it’s Free. On another note. Several years ago I had a litter of puppies. I put an x-pen up by the TV. All the pups ignored it until the commercials came on. They would all stop playing and turn and look at the TV. Oddly enough, I noted one day when my brother stopped by with his two toddler boys, they did the same thing when commercials came on. Thanks again Susi. Denise Rusconi

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Susi August 6, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for writing, Denise – and you remind me of something I forgot to mention: DogTV’s probable usefulness with new puppies. Still, we’ve muddled along without it for all this time and managed to have well adjusted dogs. Between DogTV and the comments I’ve gotten about the “yellow ribbon” scheme, I keep thinking I’m seeing a trend: people looking for a quick fix. Most breeders and seasoned “new dog” owners I know do it the old fashioned way. Puppy parties, lots of different noises, surfaces and sensations, going the extra mile to socialize our dogs. There’s a new type of owner emerging, I’m beginning to think. They have a good heart but don’t know the first thing about dog dynamics and don’t much want to really learn. I hope I’m wrong.

As for the commercials – sometimes I think they’re better than the actual programming!

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Charlee August 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Even if I HAD Dish, which I don’t, this would NOT be on in my household. I will not allow one damn thing in my house that HSUS approves of. If they endorsed oxygen, I would be obligated to point out that our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen! LOL

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Susi August 6, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I was going to mention that as part of my objection, too, Charlee, and then frankly forgot! Plenty of people raised the same point on some of the sites I visited – and in a scathing manner.

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Sarah August 6, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I have not watched it but doubt the dogs would either. The cat, on the other hand, is another story. Freek’y (Yeh, abbreviation for Free Kitty, okay?) has been known to make flying leaps at the TV screen when Nature features birds or fish. Perhaps her most embarrassing moment came one Christmas Eve when we opened the present from my mother and hung it on the wall. Freek’y thudded to the floor following a five or six foot leap when the Audubon clock (Remember those?) began warbling midnight! Dogs just lay here smirking.

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Susi August 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I hope you don’t mind, Sarah, but I read your comment to my husband who, like me, burst out laughing at the imagery of the cat leaping at the wall, and the dogs merely smirking. Smirking is such a good word, don’t you think?

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Viatecio August 12, 2013 at 6:08 am

I was hanging out at a petsitting client’s house once, giving their dogs some play- and chillout-time outside their crates while “Up” played on the teevee (I had never seen the movie before and didn’t know what to expect).

Apparently there are LOTS of dogs in that movie, and ANY time one of my charges heard a bark, he would start barking mindlessly. Because the dog scenes CONTINUED, this dog eventually started becoming focused on the teevee and would start his barking anytime he SAW a dog.

This is NOT cute. I don’t get people who insist that their dog watches teevee and enjoys it. I saw a dog that was anxious, stressed and reacting to something completely unnecessary. Rather than being able to play with me and the other dogs in a normal fashion, and calm down appropriately when finished, he became worked-up and agitated, even when I turned OFF the teevee–he continued to check in on it just in case them dogs ever came back.

OK, so my personal experience with “tee-vee watching dogs” is n=1, and maybe my interpretations aren’t welcome to those who insist that “DogTeeVee” is the next best thing.

But I completely agree with you here.

Dogs don’t need teevee. If they can watch it without becoming worked-up or anxious, then fine–take it and run. But what a dog really needs is to get outside, be active, working both mind and body. I want a dog to sleep at night (aaand maybe during the day as well) because it’s TIRED and perhaps is cogitating over a lesson, not because it’s BORED and has nothing else to do. I want my dog socialized to situations and environments, not to a picture and sound on the teevee–case in point: my dog will sleep through westerns and fireworks shows just fine when they’re on teevee, but put her next to the target range and she can’t handle it. I want her out in the world, not vegging away in my living room.

Sometimes I wonder what she thinks when I sit here on the couch looking at the flat thing that makes clicky sounds and sits on my lap–what do I see in it that makes me stay here? Why do I sit and look at the Noisy BrightBox across the room for hours? Why not go out and play fetch or tug? It’s much more fun. Come on, Via, she says. I’m bored, get off your lazy ass! (Funny thing yesterday, I had my brother over to do some computer work and the dog was being a bit of a bug, so I politely excused myself for 10 minutes. Went outside and worked the dog through some obedience maneuver marathons while Brother worked on my computers. Came back in and didn’t hear from her for about an hour!)

Sorry for the rambling, but tl;dr basically states that I’m completely with you on this…

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Susi August 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

Grin – needless to say, Via, I love hearing from anyone who agrees with me! Kidding aside, I’m glad to hear that your observations line up with mine. Years ago, I once read that a good dog is a tired dog. I’ve since expanded that to include, “a happy dog is a dog with a job.” As you shared, just a few minutes outside with you working on some drills broke up the tedium for the dog and made her much more content. Well played!

Thank you for writing!!

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Viatecio August 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Whew…I was hoping I wouldn’t be banned for agreeing with you :) I love the “Happy dog is a dog with a job” sentiment.

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Marie January 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm

My dog is obsessed with Dog TV! If we want to get his attention, we don’t even bother to call his name, or say cookie. We just say Dog TV and he races for the nearest television. He only gets to watch a little (5-15 minutes) each day, but he LOVES it when we do put it on for him. He raises and lowers his head, tilts his head, follows the movement of animals, children, and balls. He bows and pounces at the TV and tries to play with the dogs on the screen. He wags like mad whenever there is a beach scene. He pants happily whenever a child’s voice comes on and says “Your a good dog! Yes you are!” He is a hunting dog and is extremely visual. He notices other TV programs, is fascinated by his reflection in the mirror, and notices everything out the window. These reasons may be why Dog TV is such a huge hit with him. My other dog, a Beauceron, shows practically no interest in DOG TV.

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Susi January 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Marie, thanks for writing! You’ve piqued a thought in me. I wonder if a dog’s breed is at all related to his or her interest in something like Dog TV. A sighthound, for obvious reasons, might be intensely interested in movement while a herding dog such as your Beauceron and my Pulik, not as much. There’s a thesis paper in there somewhere….

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Marie January 9, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for your reply Susi! I love your idea for a thesis paper! I think that you’re on to something and that it would be a fun read! By the way, I’m very impressed by your knowledge of Beaucerons! Most people I meet think she is a Dobie mix. It’s funny you mentioned the herding, because while the Beauceron won’t watch Dog TV, she will sometimes herd my other dog away from the TV when he is watching! LOL!

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Paula June 1, 2015 at 2:05 am

Our Welsh Terrier will sit up and beg for me to turn on Dogtv, and he DOES watch it for as long as it is turned on. Even when he is almost asleep on the couch, he keeps a watchful eye until his favorite scenes show up (goes ape-sh** over the monkeys, and barks at the rabbits and squirrels). I pay the monthly fee because it keeps him from sleeping while I run errands in the morning, which keeps him from wanting to stay up past the humans’ bedtime!

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Susi June 1, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Paula, I love the visual your note brings up for me! I’m happy to have your experience expressed here, more information is always helpful to others trying to make a decision.

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Julie May 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm

When I leave my house, I always keep the tv on usually reggae music channel. When direct TV came out with it, I thought, “yeah right, I wouldn’t pay a dime for that.” Then they gave it to us for free for a bit and my one dog loves it (the one that actually has some separation anxiety). She is mesmerized by it. My other dog, she could care less. So I do purchase it now because it is entertaining to see her watching it and also it is comforting to know that when I am gone, she is entertained.

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Susi May 23, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Good to know, Julie, and I appreciate your feedback!

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Susi August 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for the share, Peggy!

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