Dog Science Series: Is Your Dog Actually Watching TV?

4 min read
Dog Science Series: Is Your Dog Actually Watching TV? - Animals Matter, Inc.

Does your dog like watching TV or do they just glance at it and then look away? Maybe they even act totally bored by the whole idea of sitting and staring at a box. To understand why dogs sometimes like curling up with a cozy blanket and their favorite human to watch TV, we need to take a deep dive into a very interesting piece of anatomy: the canine eye.

What Is the Difference Between Human and Canine Vision?

The eyes of both humans and canines contain nerve cells shaped like rods and cones. The rod cells detect light and motion, while the cones perceive colors. Our canine companions can detect motion (especially at long distances) much better than we can and see better in low light due to having more rod cells in their retinas than we have.

Those extra rods mean that a dog's eyes are very sensitive to light and motion. They'll pick up on the slightest motion, whether it's a tiny bug scurrying across the patio or a human tip-toeing to the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

This ability to perceive even minute movements was a useful adaptation they inherited from their wolf ancestors who needed it to detect their prey and avoid dangers.

Have you ever noticed your dog's eyes glowing in the dark? This is another adaptation that came to them courtesy of their predatory ancestors. The back of their eyes is covered by a reflective membrane.

Any light that isn't absorbed by the rays bounces off this reflective membrane. The effect is similar to using a mirror to make a room seem larger by bouncing the light around. Only in this case, it intensifies the light hitting the retina, giving it more to work with in identifying objects in the dark.

Human Eyes Perceive More Colors

That's because we have three types of cones to their two. Our trichromatic vision allows us to see red, green, and blue. However, our dogs have dichromatic vision and can only see blues and yellows. Everything else looks gray or brown to them. This is probably similar to how humans with red-green color blindness see the world.

Dogs also have trouble distinguishing different hues of the same color. For instance, rather than seeing clearly different light blue and dark blue colors, they only see a fairly generic 'blue'.

Although they see very well in the dark, a dog's vision in the daytime is only about half as sharp as ours. Don't worry, though, even when the world looks a bit blurry, they can always rely on their superior hearing and extraordinary sense of smell.

In Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians, author and vet Bonnie Beaver explains that the shape of a dog's face also affects how they see the world. Dogs with long, slender muzzles see a much different world at a glance than their brachycephalic pals with their adorably smushed snouts.

Do Dogs Watch TV Like We Do?

We know that dogs listen and respond to the TV but what are they actually seeing? Does the TV screen look the same to them as it does to us? Not really, since the colors aren't the same and they probably won't pick up as many details on a bright screen. However, the advent of HDTV has greatly improved your pet's viewing experience.

Television actually isn't a smooth flow of images. Instead, it's a rapid stream of separate images appearing one after another. Older TVs produced that stream of images at 60 Hertz (Hz). Since humans only have motion perception up to about 55 Hz, we can't see the flickering as images change and perceive it as a smooth, fluid motion.

However, dogs can see the changes at up to 75Hz. They probably wondered why their humans spent so much time staring at all those flickering images! Modern TVs offer high-resolution pictures that flow much faster — at a rate that even our dogs see as nice, smooth motion.

With resolution that helps them see better, and without the annoying flickers, is it any wonder that more dogs than ever are watching TV?

How Do Dogs React to the Television?

Most dogs will glance at the TV occasionally, especially if you're watching it or if the TV show features animals on screen. Shows that feature animals are almost always the most popular among man's best friends. Most of the time they don't watch it continuously. However, different dogs have different viewing habits.

If your dog is really interested in what's on the TV, they will probably be staring at it intently, occasionally cocking their head or pricking their ears without taking their eyes off of the screen.

Dogs barking on the screen may even get your dog excited enough to bark too. And don't even think of watching a National Geographic show featuring wolves while the baby is sleeping! Few dogs can resist the call of their wild relatives and they will probably stage a howl-along.


Here are more interesting facts about our dog's eyes.

What is the size of a dog's eye?

The size of a dog's eyes varies according to the dog's size and breed with some breeds like the Pekinese having more prominent eyes for their size. However, proportionately, a dog's eyes are similar to a human's.

Can dogs see colors?

Dogs can only see blue and yellow plus shades of brown and gray. Scientists believe that greens and purples may appear blue while red and orange probably look brown to our dogs.

Should you leave the TV on for your dog while you're gone?

That depends on whether your pooch actually watches the TV or only glances at it occasionally. In any case, keep the sound turned down low because of your pet's sensitive hearing.

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