5 min read


Can Dogs Understand Screens?



5 min read


Can Dogs Understand Screens?


Does your dog watch tv? Have you seen him bark at animals on the screen? Does he leap at a bird or ball moving across the screen? Have you ever tried to call your dog using the screen on a phone or tablet? 

Screens are an important tool for humans to interact with the world and one another. We have big-screen televisions, screens on our phones,  tablets, laptops, desktops and toys we buy for our children. But what about our dogs?  

Humans will leave the television on to keep their dog company, pay for services that allow them to have face time with their dog when they are away and locate shows they think their dogs will like to watch. Does your dog understand screens?


Signs That Dogs Understand Screens

Dog owners and researchers, alike, have taken time to observe dogs watching television and screens. Just like people, their interest in what's showing can vary. 

If the sounds and sights catch their attention, you just might see your dog paying close attention, watching and following the movements on the screen, or even barking! Some dogs will get excited and run about while vocalizing with whines or barks. 

Or perhaps your dog just isn't into what's showing. Like humans when we are bored, he will move on to focus his attention to other objects or hop on the couch and take a nap.

Dogs have clear ways of signaling they are excited and interested in something in their environment. They will communicate that excitement in a variety of ways. You may find your dog sitting in front of the television, watching intently. Or perhaps he barks at the screen or even whines. Some dogs will run around the room searching for the source of the sound or seek to interact with an animal he sees. And if your dog is happy with what he is experiencing on the screen, there might even be a wag of the tail.

Dogs will be using their senses to seek to understand the screens in front of them. In the absence of their powerful scent, they are relying on sound and vision to interpret what they are seeing. 

Dogs' attention spans can be fleeting when they are interacting with screens. They may seem interested and alert at one moment and disinterested a moment later. 

Many humans want to interact with their dogs on screens when they are away but are often disappointed when they are unable to gain or hold their dog's attention for some lovely words of affection or a chance to gaze into their precious pooch's eyes. Dogs will react to familiar faces and to attention-grabbing noises, but they will tend to have a fleeting attention.

Body Language

Here are some signs that a screen has caught your dog's eye:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Wag Tail

Other Signs

These are even more signs that your pooch is watching a screen:

  • Approaching The Screen
  • Running Between Owner And Screen
  • Reacting To Noises From Screen
  • Reacting To Animals And Movements On Screens
  • Boredom After A Short Time

The History of Dogs and Screens


Screens are a contemporary experience. Dogs have been domesticated and living with humans for about 30,000 years, but the presence of screens as a part of everyday life in our homes has only evolved since the 1950s. 

What is exciting to consider is that as the technology of the screens improves and makes them more life-like, so does the potential for the screens to be understood by our dogs! With screens that generate more images per second, your dog is seeing the images as film. 

Your dog will always have basic instincts that drive his understanding of his environment. He will rely on his senses for smell, hearing and sight to make sense of his world. Screens lack the sense of smell, causing him to rely more on his hearing and sight to recognize, orient, and interpret the images and sounds. 

While humans like to be passively entertained, dogs are active. Dogs need to play and work. While dogs may be watching television with you and able to perceive the images, they need activity, play and walks to be healthy and happy.

The Science of Dogs and Screens


Scientists have been conducting studies of canine interactions with screens since the middle of the twentieth century. One method for measuring their understanding of screens is by tracking their head movements and eye gazes. 

Images are shown to the dogs and their gaze of the screen from left to right to center are tracked. They will also study how long a dog will pay attention to images on the screen. It is believed that dogs will spend more time gazing upon images that they recognize or are appealing to them. These studies have demonstrated that dogs do have preferences to certain images. 

Dogs actually like to watch other dogs! Without their sense of smell, dogs are relying on their senses of sight and hearing to interact with screens. Studies on dogs' responses to sounds have demonstrated that sound will attract their attention to screens. Dogs prefer to hear sounds that include dogs barking and whining, people giving dog-friendly commands and praise, and the noise of toys squeaking. These attention-getting sounds are probably an integral part of positive obedience and home experiences for your domesticated darling. 

The dog's understanding of the screens is also affected by his color vision. Studies have shown that color cues are more important to dogs than brightness. The dog has dichromatic vision. This means they have two types of color receptors. They see in two spectrums of light - blue and yellow. If you locate special programs for dogs, like Dog TV, they often make the shows more appealing to the dogs by controlling the light spectrums to be easily seen by canines.

Considering that dogs can see screens, prefer to look at dogs and their owners, and respond to the sounds that are reinforcing to them, like barks, play toys and playful voices, it seems that they are relating to screens with memories and recognizing what is familiar to them in their everyday lives. For dogs, that may be a level of understanding that is meaningful to them!

Training Your Dog to Watch Screens


Don't let your dog get bored. Humans might need to use screens for work, communication and entertainment,  but dog behavior has not yet evolved for screens to be as integral to their lives. 

If you want to use screens with your dog, to connect when you are away, give your dog good eye contact and face time when you are with him. Use positive phrases and rewards so that when he hears those words through the screen, he can recognize your face and voice. You might even want to have a squeak toy that is rewarding to him that you use when you are on the screen. 

Understand that your dog has a short attention span for screens. A quick interaction with you is the best he can do. If you are planning to use television to entertain your dog while you are not home, the programming developed for dogs will be more attractive to him than just leaving him with a reality tv show or the news. Dogs have different personalities and preferences, just like we do.

Remember that your dog needs activity. A busy dog is a happy dog. While screens are tools for us to connect and entertain, you will want to take the time to be a good owner and have a relationship with your dog in which you are training, playing, walking and creating areas that are safe and fun for him to explore

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Safety Tips When Using Screens with Dogs

  1. Screens may be used as tools to help you check on your dog when you are away.
  2. Screens do not replace human supervision or availability.
  3. Secure big screens so they will not be knocked over if your dog is excited.
  4. Do not leave screens around for curious dogs to sniff or chew.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/13/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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