Can Dogs See TV? Is This Normal?

Q:When I watch certain shows or movies, my dog watches TV with me. It seems like she is actually watching what’s happening on the screen. Can dogs see TV? Is this normal?

A: Yes, dogs can indeed see the TV screen, but not in the same way humans do, because dogs’ vision is different from ours. Also, pet parents shouldn’t expect their pooch to sit down and watch a full two-hour action movie—many dogs who watch television only stay interested for shorter periods of time.

What Do Dogs See When They Watch TV?

When dogs watch television, it looks a little different than what humans see.

Less Colors

Dogs have dichromatic vision, which means they see a limited range of colors compared to humans. “They primarily perceive blues and yellows, but they have difficulty distinguishing between reds and greens,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson, BVetMed, the head of veterinary medicine at Small Door Veterinary.

Higher Flicker Fusion Frequency

Additionally, dogs have a higher flicker fusion frequency. “This means they may perceive the images on the screen as a series of flickering pictures rather than a continuous motion,” Dr. Richardson explains. This difference in motion perception creates a different viewing experience for your furry best friend.

Why Do Dogs Watch TV?

When dogs appear to be watching television they may be intrigued by:

  • Movement
  • Sounds
  • Certain visual elements

For example, dogs can often recognize different dog breeds that come on the screen, which might interest them, says Dr. Mary Burch, Ph.D., certified applied animal behaviorist and director of the AKC Family Dog Program.

“They clearly can recognize other dogs,” says Dr. Burch. “Many respond to dog sounds such as barking or puppies yipping.”

dog watching tv

The most interesting aspect of television watching may actually be you!

“In real life, when [dogs] see something, the reward is an action, aka running over to investigate,” says Dr. Freya Mowat, BVSc. Ph.D. DECVO DACVO MRCVS, a veterinary ophthalmologist clinician-scientist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

 “Whereas TV watching is passive—the watching is the enjoyment—so it does surprise me that dogs will sit and watch content for a longer period of time.”

Television may hold their attention because the dog is getting rewarded in the form of the company of the human they’re watching the show with, Dr. Mowat explains. Awww. 

Do Dogs Think TV Shows Are Real Life?

Although some dogs may like to look at what’s going on on-screen and take in what’s happening, unlike humans, they cannot distinguish that what’s on-screen is not actually there. For instance, if you have a television show depicting a bird, your pooch doesn’t know it’s just a picture.

“Dogs are not capable of comprehending TV in the same way humans do,” Dr.  Richardson says. That’s because animal cognition is not the same as human cognition.

Why Doesn’t My Dog Watch TV?

If your doggie isn’t a fan of television, don’t sweat it. Just like humans have their own preferences, dogs have theirs, too. This means that while one dog may like to sit in front of the television screen, another may not even glance at it.

Dr. Burch explains that this might be because some dogs may not have a history of hearing particular sounds. “Or it could be they are not recognizing other dogs,” she adds.

An interest in television may also vary based on different breeds. While there’s no official research on this, Dr. Burch says it would stand to reason that dog breeds who are stimulated by things that move would be the most likely to tune in to television. Such breeds include herding dogs, like the Border Collie, some terriers, and sporting dogs (dogs who were bred to help hunters locate and retrieve game).

“However, there are exceptions to every rule and dogs that watch television are no different,” Dr. Burch says.

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog Watching TV?

Pet parents should be mindful of:

  • Excessive volume. “Excessive volume can startle or stress your dog, so it’s best to keep the volume at a level that is comfortable for them,” Dr. Richardson says.
  • Prolonged screen time. “While short periods of watching TV occasionally might be entertaining or stimulating, dogs still need physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction as their primary sources of engagement,” Dr. Richardson says.

How to Have the Best Bingefest With Your Dog

Pick a show they’d like.

OK, but what kind of TV shows do dogs like? Just like humans, a dog’s favorite TV show may vary. While some dogs may be interested in nature documentaries with sounds and movements, like those shown on National Geographic, others may respond better to shows that feature other dogs.

“Experimenting with different types of programming can help you determine what captures your dog’s attention,” says Dr. Richardson.

Snuggle up together in a comfy blanket.

Make your pooch extra comfortable by throwing a blanket over the couch or bed. (Bonus: It can help protect your furniture.). Or you can give them their own bed to curl up in.

See more dog beds that Chewy pet parents love.

Keep interactive dog toys on hand.

Dogs shouldn’t be expected to hold their attention for hours on end. Provide them with toys that can help keep them busy so you can finally catch up on your favorite series.

Should you leave the television on for them when you’re not home?

Pet parents can go ahead and leave the television on for their pooch when they’re not home if they’d like. “A television may be left on so the dog can hear the sound, especially if the owner is gone,” says Dr. Burch.

However, dogs shouldn’t be expected to stay engaged during a full two-hour movie. They may get more out of a predictable routine and other forms of entertainment, such as mental enrichment toys and interactive activities, says Dr. Richardson. Those two things combined can help keep them engaged, therefore preventing anxiety and boredom.

Try tossin’ your pup one of these toys:

Television isn’t the only way you can keep your dog entertained. There are plenty of ways to keep them engaged, like playing one these 15-minute games or taking them on a dog-friendly day trip. And if your furry friend gets bummed out when you’re away from home, be sure to read our guide on how to reduce separation anxiety in dogs.

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