Do dogs really watch television?

Do dogs really watch television?

You constantly catch your dog staring at the television – but is he actually watching it? Here’s what science has to say about this cute phenomenon.

You’re three episodes in to your favorite binge-watch when your dog leaps up, hackles raised, and barks at the dog on the screen. It seems as though he’s watching television right along with you, but what is actually going on? Is your dog just reacting to light and sound or is he really watching television?

The answer is… a bit of both. Here are three things that effect “television watching” for dogs.

1. His binocular vision

Like you, your dog boasts binocular vision, meaning he has two eyes on the front of his head. Those two separate eyes receive two separate images, but just like you, his brain merges those images into one. That makes the scenery much easier to interpret.

Where the binocular view overlaps is known as your dog’s field of vision. It’s what gives him his depth perception. Your dog’s field of vision is pretty wide, around 250 degrees, as compared to yours, which is only 190 degrees. The field of vision varies by breed, with shorter nosed breeds, like Pugs, boasting a wider field of vision than their longer nosed cousins, like Collies.

Even though he enjoys a wide field of vision, your dog tends to ignore objects within range until they move and catch his attention. Stationary objects are ignored by most dogs. This could explain why he suddenly lunges at the television during action scenes.

2. Your dog’s photoreceptors and recovery time

Photoreceptor recovery time, measured in Hz, can make or break a binge watch for your dog. Photoreceptors in your dog’s eyes (and yours) capture light and send those light signals to the brain via the optic nerve. When the light flashes come so fast that they outpace the photoreceptor recovery time or Hz, the brain merges the flashed images to make them appear to move. This is true for humans as well.

Human photoreceptors have a minimum recovery time of 45Hz which makes watching television easy for us as most televisions boast a frequency of 60Hz. The television Hz frequency outpaces the human photoreceptor recovery time and we see individual frames as moving images.

Dogs, on the other hand, boast a frequency of between 70–80 Hz.  So, for your dog, a 60 Hz television isn’t quite fast enough. He sees your favorite binge-watch as a series of flickering images, similar to how you might see an old Charlie Chaplin movie.

3. The age of your device

New technology might make a binge watcher out of your dog after all. “Before the advent of high-definition television, the images on a television screen would appear to a dog sort of like an old 1920’s movie,” says Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, clinical instructor for the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic. High-definition are now available in very fast refresh rates, sometimes up to 120 Hz.

So, is your dog really watching television? Some dogs do, others don’t. One thing’s for sure – there’s never been a better reason to buy yourself a fancy television. Just don’t let him get a hold of the remote or you’ll be watching old Lassie re-runs until further notice.


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