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Understanding what your dog is thinking when they watch tv

In some of the pictures and videos of our facility, you may have noticed the flat screen televisions mounted on the walls. We have them in most rooms now, including tvs mounted where the dogs in their individual kennels can watch them. You may have asked yourself, “what’s with the tvs?” There’s a simple reason for it: we want your pets to be as comfortable as possible during their stay with us.

Do dogs watch tv?

As home televisions have improved in quality, you may have noticed your pets taking more interest in what’s on than they used to. The reason for this has to do with a difference in the way humans and animals process visual information. Human brains can fill in the gaps between frames of animation, anticipating the movements and convincing us that we’re observing real motion and not just a quick series of still images. Think of the stick figure animations you may have drawn in the corner of a notebook. Few animals seeing a flipbook animation would perceive movement in the way we do.

Testing on humans has found that the average person’s eye and brain can perceive up to 60 frames per second (fps), and possibly much more than that. But we’re actually accustomed to much slower rates in the visual media we watch. Movies are traditionally shown at 24 fps, but we still perceive relatively fluid motion at frame rates as low as 16 fps. To some animals, the tv and movies we enjoy looks more like a flickering slideshow than real movement. Dogs require about 70 fps, and cats require closer to 100 fps. (Cats see a bit more color than dogs do though, so they seem to enjoy watching tv even more!)

So as the average person’s television hardware has gotten better, with faster screen refresh rates and higher-definition images, you may have noticed your pets are taking more of an interest in what you’re watching. We’ve heard about dogs who perk up any time their favorite animal comes on the screen during a movie, such as horses in a western, or avidly watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer. Or maybe you’ve seen videos on YouTube of cats trying to catch the “fish” in an ipad aquarium app? (If you haven’t seen this, here’s one of our favorites: )

After we installed HD flat screen tvs all around our facility, especially in waiting areas and kennels, we noticed some things that may surprise you:

First, as a pet owner, you probably know how destructive boredom can be. During the day, our guests enjoy all kinds of activities and attention from our staff. But at night, the televisions give them something to look at when they’re in their kennels. This helps prevent boredom and the harmful behavior that results from it.

Second, having television playing at a low volume seems to discourage barking from our guests. This helps them relax and sleep rather than spending all night keeping each other awake with barking. Then they’re more rested to enjoy activities during the day like agility training or nature walks around the grounds.

Finally, you may be asking yourself what kind of shows the dogs like to watch. Our first thought was Animal Planet channel, because there would be lots of dogs and cats and other animals on the screen for them to relate to. But too many of the shows involve animals fighting, and far too many show trips to the vet. Some of our more observant pet guests found this understandably distressing. After some trial and error with different kinds of programming, we found that our guests liked cartoons the most. We think this is for one simple reason: for the dogs that come from families with children (or even grown millennials that watch a lot of cartoons), it reminds them of home.


Here’s some extra reading if you’re as curious about this topic as we were: