Honey, my 3-year old giant Lab rescue prefers college and NFL football over documentaries, meditation music over true crime or movies with gunshots. I kid you not.
I first noticed her fascination with the television early on while she was an excitable pup. I initially thought she liked our watching television because she was permitted to sit in between my husband and me on the sofa, much more preferable than being on the hard floor. But as she grew, I observed that she would stay on that sofa with the television in the background if I’d left the room to run an errand or tidy the house.
Honey is an alarmingly affectionate mutt with patient “parents” who’ve both always had dogs (and cats). It doesn’t hurt that we are empty nesters, meaning she is the queen of our attention.
She, like many such exceptionally devoted pups also exhibits signs of separation anxiety, especially with her “alpha,” my husband. When he leaves the house, even if it’s to take out the garbage, she waits by the door and gives a greeting when he returns less than a minute later as if he’s been gone a week. When I run into the grocery store while the two of them wait in the car, she watches the store entryway, mesmerized until I return.
Television for us is a bit of a panacea for the anxiety caused on the inevitable occasions requiring us to leave her alone. Thankfully, she’s never destroyed anything of value other than so-called indestructible dog toys while we are gone.
It wasn’t until recently that I tuned into her preferred programming, including her preferences for music. Which led me to do some research about whether leaving the television or music on in the owner’s absence is beneficial or not.
Apparently it is. For the most part. Much depends on the dog’s breed and temperament. Even the ASPCA and Humane Society have provided statements endorsing the use of music and videos providing your dog seems to enjoy it.
Sandra Mitchell, a practicing veterinarian who also writes for PETMD.com ultimately states it can do no harm and can both calm a nervous dog or stimulate a bored one. For example, Dr. Mitchell points out that some territorial dogs won’t take to videos of other canines if they perceive that the other dogs are on “their” own turf. It comes down to their perception of what they see.
And they do see, bunking the old theory that they don’t see images on a screen and only see in black and white. Dogs’ eyes don’t see all of the colors humans do including blue, yellow, some shades of green, plus the black, gray and white spectrum. They do not see red well at all. For this reason, experts in this relatively new trend of dog channeling carefully script their specialty channels using colors and backgrounds dogs will better see while watching a screen.
Enter dog channels designed to calm or stimulate your dog while you are not there. Any internet search will reveal plenty of options. DOGTV is a subscriber-based channel with 24 hours of entertainment. Using Go Pro cameras mounted on dog actors, they painstakingly strive to let your dog better identify with the action, and the are careful about their use of color. The videos are only 2-5 minutes each, theoretically the ideal attention span for most dogs. DOGTV also incorporates lots of landscapes and movement they claim are popular with their canine viewers.
Continental Kennel Clun USA has a blog that also touts the potential of “dog channeling,” taking it a step further by citing university research proving dogs can even pick up some training pointers by watching other obedient dogs and their masters who praise them.
Naysayers to the concept point out that television is not interactive for dogs, i.e., there’s no scent – their greatest stimulus. (But my dog Honey, who could easily qualify as a drug or missing person sniffer doesn’t seem to mind.)
Regardless of anyone else’s research, I’m convinced that a good day for Honey consists of her daily exercise, a TV program of a raucous football game (she seems to like that hum of the crowd), a yoga or meditation set to music. She also enjoys a good dose of light classical selections. Sometimes, she doesn’t even see me leave the room or the house because she is captivated by her own soundtrack in the background.
I vote for allowing dogs to enjoy entertainment just as much as we do.