We give our dogs so much in life—multiple walks a day, belly rubs, bones, treats, expensive trips to the vet, and, often, precious real estate in our very own beds. Yet now it appears that we might also need to get them their own TVs so that they can watch their own cable channel while we're away at work trying to earn the money to pay for said cable channel. Seriously? Well, you wouldn't want your pooch to fall behind his pooch peers at the dog park, would you? You'd better start saving right away, because soon a channel called DogTV is coming to a television near you (and your dog).
DogTV promises to be the very first cable network to offer round-the-clock programming for dogs. While it sounds incredibly frivolous, its creators say that it's intended to keep your dog entertained and happy while you're away. Bonnie Vieira, a DogTV spokeswoman, said,
For dogs who suffer from separation anxiety, DogTV is a tool that might help ease them, so maybe they're not getting into trouble, and they're happier, more relaxed, when you get home.
OK, fine, those of us with pets can relate to that deep feeling of sadness and concern you get when you contemplate what your lonely animal is doing all day while you're away—especially if it likely involves destroying valuable household items—but is this really the solution? Maaaybe.
First, let's talk about what's even on DogTV, because it's actually pretty adorable. According to the New York Times, the "shows" are really short segments (usually three- to six-minutes long) that feature,
[G]rassy fields, bouncing balls and humans rubbing dog tummies. There are also segments featuring noiseless vacuum cleaners and muted doorbells to help make dogs more comfortable around such common household agitations.
Aww. Plus, it's all been scientifically designed to hold your dog's interest. Says Vieira, "We have three years of research on how dogs react to different stimuli." Impressive, and yet there is a big chance your dog will take one look at this set-up you've purchased specifically for her and turn her sweet little nose in the other direction—because it turns out a lot of dogs don't really give a shit about TV. Hmm, you don't say.
This lack of interest in the telly can happen for a few reasons. One, your dog may not fall for the optical illusion that TVs use to make motion appear continuous. Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the creator of a series DVDs for dogs says, "Dogs have terrific motion sensitivity. For many dogs, that's a turn-off. It doesn't look real to them." Kind of like when you look at certain HDTVs and everything looks a little too real, lending even the most expensive production the air of something that was filmed for local cable access.
Second, a lot of dogs need the TV to be at their eye-level for them to pay attention. So, you probably can't just turn on your existing TV and trust that Fido will focus on it. Instead, you need put it down where he can see it. But are you really going to move your giant TV set to the floor every time you leave the house? No, you are not. So you'll have to buy your pooch his or her own flat panel display. Nothing but the best for your pet!
But even if you go to all that trouble, there's still a good chance that your beloved companion will have zero interest in watching a ball bounce across the screen. As Teoti Andersen, former president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, explains, some dogs just aren't into watching TV—same as with people.
Personally, my dog will occasionally deign to glance at the screen if there's another animal on it—always causing me to exclaim to no one in particular, "Look, she's watching TV! That's so cute!"—but then 15 seconds later her attention has turned back to staring at her back leg or sleeping. And, while I have not yet installed a nanny cam in the house to watch her while I'm gone, I assume that is exactly the kind of exciting behavior she displays while I'm not in the apartment.
OK, so assuming that you can even get your dog to watch DogTV, will it measurably improve their lives? Dr. Ann E. Hohenhaus, a staff veterinarian for the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, told the Times,
I think a lot of this is to make us feel better as opposed to making the pet happier. Your pet needs adequate exercise and an interesting environment. You cannot just put on the TV and hope your dog is going to get better.
Ding, ding, ding! As with shoving your children in front of the television for hours at a time, relying on TV to dogsit your pup is probably not the healthiest strategy. Still, desperate times can call for desperate measures. And, says Dr. Hohenhaus, "If the dog wasn't enjoying it, he would find something else to do, like nibble on the end of a sofa." So, if Fido decides to watch the programming that was specifically designed with him in mind, she says, "could be a component" in a bigger program of easing separation anxiety.
Naturally, DogTV did some testing. They played the network for the pets in the "behavior evaluation ward" at California's Escondido Humane Society, and they found that it "temporarily helped reduce barking and antsy behavior." Excuse me while I release my heart, which has just been squeezed dangerously hard by the image of a bunch of scared shelter dogs being soothed by serene images on television.
Teoti Andersen says that if your dog watches the shows, it can probably learn from what it's seeing. Meaning it might overcome its fear of vacuums—but then couldn't it just as easily become convinced that you should be providing it with 24-7 games of fetch and tummy scratches? This seems like it could really cut both ways. For instance, what if your dog is one of those dogs that barks every time it sees another dog on TV. True story: my mom's ever-vigilant dog, Harriet, once barked so hard while watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show that it caused her to fall off the couch. So it certainly seems possible that playing DogTV for your little pal will just result in him or her yipping all day at whatever is on screen—to the great delight of your neighbors, I'm sure. Also, might leaving on something like C-SPAN with it's series of calmingly mundane voices be just as soothing for your pup as DogTV? Well, maybe, but that theory has not been scientifically tested, so proceed at your own risk.
Still, chances are, if you already have cable, and DogTV soon shows up on your channel line-up, you'll at least try it (If you can even find it amidst the 9,500 other choices, that is.) Because you love your pet, and you want the best for her in life. You want her to have the same toys her friends have, and you obviously want her to get into a good canine college or she'll never amount to anything. So you would never deny her the chance to watch educational programming all day while you're off at your boring old job, where there's not a grassy field or a belly rub in sight.
It will work, and soon you'll want your dog to start watching DogTV while you're home too—because it's just easier to make dinner when she's not underfoot—so you'll buy Fluffy her own special Doggy TV, and before you know it you'll be building an addition onto your house so that she can have her very own dog media room, complete with a scent-releasing component. It's a slippery slope, my friends! Of course, all the while, without realizing it, you'll have provided your cat with a constant source of entertainment too. She'll perch herself on the back of the couch and peer down at the dog, who's so sweetly captivated by the images on the screen, and busy her mind with snide thoughts like, "Why the fuck is that idiot staring at those dumb pictures?"
Should Your Dog Be Watching TV? [New York Times]
Image via dean bertoncelj/Shutterstock.