A couch-loving dog watching DogTV. A couch-loving dog watching DogTV. A couch-loving dog watching DogTV. (Photo: YouTube)

Why do dogs enjoy watching TV?

A network with programming geared toward pets is helping keep dogs engaged during the day.

Everyday, millions of Americans go off to work and have to leave their dogs home alone. So humans have resorted to leaving the radio on or interacting through a two-way webcam to help keep their pets company during the day. But now there's a new option.

DogTV, a channel with videos and sounds geared toward canine viewers, is helping dogs who were previously stuck listening to a ticking clock until Mommy and Daddy returned home. The network is the brainchild of Ron Levi, a former TV writer and academic. Since launching, Discovery Communications has purchased a stake in the Israeli-based channel. It is available on DirectTV, Roku and other devices.

"It's better than a babysitter," Jeff Bradberry, an IT manager in Greenville, S.C., told From The Grapevine. His Great Dane, Dexter, had been in 57 foster homes before Bradbury adopted him. Having DogTV on during the day relaxes Dexter, and helps with separation anxiety. "Right off the bat, he got into it," Bradbury says. "As soon as we turned it on, he cheered up."

But what exactly is it about DogTV that has tails wagging?

Working with veterinarians, the network has come up with videos that dogs find more engaging than typical TV stations. Some segments show dogs running through grass or romping on a beach. Videos are often shot low to the ground, from the perspective of the animal. Some spots are meant to relax a dog and lull her to sleep, while others are meant to stimulate and excite.

It's a common misconception that dogs only see in black and white, explains Dr. Nicholas Dodman of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University. Pretty much all animals have receptors in their eyes that pick up color – it's just that they see colors differently from humans. So DogTV adjusts the color hues on their videos to make them more stimulating to their target demographic.

Dogs see colors differently from humansDogs see colors differently from humans, so the scientists at DogTV adjusted the colors to make the scenes more visually stimulating for canine vision. (Photo: YouTube)

Depending on the specific breed, dogs will react differently to the visual stimuli. Some, like hounds, enjoy it more for the sound, while others – especially those with separation anxiety – find it to be comforting.

"My daughter's dog had separation anxiety," Dodman told From The Grapevine. "She acquired DogTV through a Roku box and her dog immediately, completely – hook, line and sinker – got into DogTV. And now, really, the separation anxiety is gone."

Dodman says there's nothing more distressing than the sound of silence for a dog. "I had to invent things before DogTV," says Dodman, who would encourage dog owners to put on Animal Planet and leave it on the background during the day. "But a guy wrestling with an alligator may not be appropriate for a dog." In one study Dodman worked on, researchers compared dogs' viewing habits of DogTV, CNN and a blank screen. The canines overwhelmingly preferred DogTV. Dodman was so impressed with the network, he now serves as DogTV's chief scientist.

As for the future, DogTV may eventually add another sense to its network: Smell. The technology already exists. (Remember Smell-O-Vision in movie theaters?) A box containing different smells could release certain odors when specific items appear on the screen. "For the dog, maybe there would be a scene of Burger King and there would be a faint smell of a burger cooking," Dodman explains.

With programming like that, Fido will be tuning in for years to come.

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