Can dogs watch TV?

Lots of dog owners wonder if their pooch is really watching TV with them. The animals stare at the screen, wag their tails, and seem to react to what's happening. But are they really watching? Find out in this TAG24 dog guide.

Pet owners often wonder if their dog can watch TV.
Pet owners often wonder if their dog can watch TV.  © unsplash/sq lim

You can find many a video on TikTok or YouTube of a dog reacting to something on TV.

The sheer number of these clips prove that lots of pet owners believe their dog is actively watching and enjoying a particular TV show.

And in principle, these pet owners aren't wrong.

Dogs can watch TV, but they don't perceive shows and movies like humans do.

When the TV is on, it's a source of noise and action that attracts the dog's attention. It's particularly eye-catching for dogs because of the fast-moving images.

But a dog's visual perception works differently than their human friend's. Smells and other auditory signals play a more crucial role in this animal's general sensory perception.

That means that dogs don't enjoy movies or TV like humans do. They don't get what's happening on screen or what the sequences of images mean.

Dogs don't get excited about what's happening in TV shows. They get excited about their owners' reactions (stock image).
Dogs don't get excited about what's happening in TV shows. They get excited about their owners' reactions (stock image).  © 123RF/nd3000

Can dogs see the pictures on TV?

There are now short TV shows designed especially for dogs.
There are now short TV shows designed especially for dogs.  © Unsplash/Greg Jenkins

The answer to the question whether dogs can see the pictures on TV is related to the question: Can dogs see colors?

For a long time, people believed that dogs could only see black and white, but this belief has been debunked. Dogs see color, but they see it like people with red-green blindness – which means they see colors on TV, but not all of them.

For humans to follow the images on the TV screen, they have to have a frequency of 16 to 20 frames per second. For dogs to watch TV, a show would need more than 70 frames per second.

That means that most movies and TV shows are usually too slow for dogs' eyes. More modern TVs have a faster video frame rate than older sets, which is why dogs react more strongly to them that the older ones.

When dogs watch TV, the images are blurry. The animals see considerably worse than humans because their visual acuity is six times weaker.

Dogs also have a shorter attention spans than humans. They can't concentrate for long, which is why they don't watch TV for long. After a few seconds of staring at the tube, they pivot their stare elsewhere.

But despite these differences to human vision and attention, there are still TV shows for dogs. The programs, designed specifically for our four-legged friends, are short films of dogs playing. The images are accompanied by music from only one instrument, and work best on a modern TV with a frame rate of at least 100 hertz. These short films can be entertaining for dogs.

But whether your dog will like these shows and find them relaxing or exciting is something you will have to test yourself.

Why do dogs watch TV?

When your dog sits down with you while you're watching TV, it's probably not because they're into the show.
When your dog sits down with you while you're watching TV, it's probably not because they're into the show.  © Unsplash/Victor Grabarczyk

The bottom line is: dogs don't really watch the TV like you do. But sometimes they are interested nonetheless.

Some dogs respond to anything on TV that catches their attention in real life, like commands, squeaky toys, or other dogs or animals barking, yelping, growling, or making other sounds.

Hunting dogs can become fixated on moving objects and tend to be more interested in television than others. Other breeds that are more attune to scent, like hound dogs, tend to be less into TV than other breeds and may get bored when their owner binges some show.

When you think your dog is watching TV, what they're really watching is you. Dogs like to observe their owner's emotional response. For example, if the owner is sad, the dog may try to comfort them.

Your dog may be interested in what's on TV because they are curious about what has caught their owner's attention.

Lots of people end their day by watching TV, and the family dog wants to be part of the nightly ritual. They too jump on or sit near the couch, but they aren't looking to watch the show. They are looking for the attention of their owner.

Dogs see differently than humans, which is why they have a different understanding of what's on TV. Our four-legged friends can watch, but they aren't reacting to a show or movie plot. They are reacting to the sights and sounds, and sometimes they are "watching" because they want to feel close to you and react to their best friend's reactions.

Cover photo: unsplash/sq lim

More on the topic Dog Guide: