It's always a little disconcerting when your dog does “people” things. So when you're watching your favorite program and your canine sits down with you, his eyes on the TV with laser-like focus, you have to be wondering just what the heck is up. And as the show continues, it actually seems as if he is reacting to it! A lot of dog owners wonder if this is the sort of behavior to be concerned about. So is your dog a “telefile”? Could this be a case of dogs finally understanding what humans say, or is there a lot more at play here?
The Root of the Behavior
A 2014 study published in a lead animal behavioral journal proved without a shadow of a doubt that dogs can recognize pictures of other, unrelated canines when mixed into photos of humans as well as other animals. This is partially due to the fact that a canine's eyes can recognize and discern specifics of images entering their brain far faster than a human being can. Before the age of high definition flat screens, images shown on TV screens displayed at a much lower FPS. To dogs, this ended up looking like a constant series of still images, which may explain why it was easier for them to discern individual images. Another reason your dog might be interested in the screen is because they don't see the world in what we would consider to be the full color spectrum. Dogs actually can only see in shades of blue and yellow. So it could be possible that even to this day, the images your dog can see on the screen don't come close to matching the images you can see yourself. This has become pretty common knowledge for dog lovers, to the point where a television channel now exists that is specifically catered to your canine’s proclivities and narrowed eyesight. It primarily depicts, you guessed it, other dogs doing dog stuff. Things like chasing toys or small game, or videos of dogs interacting with one another. One huge factor here is what your dog's personality is like. Every breed has different traits and attractions, and this could absolutely be playing a role in your dog's behavior. A great example of this is when your dog hears a howl or bark from the television, and then proceeds to bark in response. Sometimes, they might even run around the house trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. This comes down to much more base-level dog traits. Every dog likes vocalizing as a means of socialization, so whether they hear that same trigger from the next yard over or from the television, they're likely to respond.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog only seems to react to the television when there are other canines being presented, this is a pretty clear cut indicator that he wants to hang out with other animals. Luckily, nowadays there are dog parks in most larger cities, so you can always find a way to get him the socialization and structure he is looking for. It's possible that you've trained this TV watching behavior into your dog. If you're the type of owner who likes to leave the television on while you're gone because it "keeps them company," it's quite likely that they've become so used to this constant, televised presence in the home that they crave it when it isn't happening. Without proper attention, you may be creating adverse behaviors that will affect your dog in his later years. While letting your dog watch TV may be adorable, it can also come with its own set of costs. Canines require a good amount of regular exercise to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Chances are, if your dog loves watching TV, it has something to do with the types of activities he's been allowed to engage in. So if your lovely little mutt has developed an addition to reality TV and cooking shows, it may be time to trade to remote for the leash.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Another thing to keep in mind with this sort of behavior is that it can be very indicative of a stressed out and lethargic animal. Our dogs are quite adept at keeping their health issues from us, especially when behavioral health is involved. To avoid falling into this trap, it's wise to keep an eye on your dog's other behaviors in conjunction with their love of television. Are they destroying things when you leave for work? Are they displaying compulsive behaviors like cleaning themselves too much? This, when paired with strange one-off behaviors like TV watching, can be major red flags that your dog isn't getting what he needs.
So, does your dog like watching television? Almost absolutely! But this behavior can hold all sorts of negative connotations when it comes to your dog's health, so a critical eye focused on his various behaviors is important. But if he’s a normally excitable guy who just likes to bark or cuddle periodically when you put on a movie, let him. At the very least he’ll only talk during the dog parts!