Here's what dogs see when they watch television

September 8, 2016 by Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, The Conversation
When’s the next dog food commercial on? Credit: Shutterstock

Dog owners often notice their pets watching televisions, computer screens and tablets. But what is going on in their pooch's head? Indeed, by tracking their vision using similar methods used on humans, research has found that domestic dogs do prefer certain images and videos.

This research indicates that have a preference towards watching other canines – but our studies have also discovered that sound often initially attracts dogs towards television and other devices. Favoured sounds include dogs barking and whining, people giving dog-friendly commands and praise, and the noise of toys squeaking.

How dogs watch TV is very different to the way humans do, however. Instead of sitting still, dogs will often approach the screen to get a closer look, and walk repeatedly between their owner and the television. They are essentially fidgety, interactive viewers.

What dogs can see on the screen is also different to humans. Dogs have dichromatic vision – they have two types of colour receptor cells and see colour within two spectrums of light: blue and yellow. The use of colour within media is very important for dogs and explains why canine TV channel, DogTV prioritises these colours in its programming. Dogs' eyes are also more sensitive to movement and vets suspect that the improved flicker rate that has come from the shift from standard to has allowed dogs to better perceive media shown on TV.

But do they enjoy it?

Multiple screens have also been used in research to see whether dogs can pick what to watch. Early research has shown that when presented with three screens, dogs are unable to decide, instead preferring to watch one screen no matter what is on it. This has still to be tested with two screens, and possibly more than three.

While science has shown that dogs can engage with television and that they prefer certain programmes, it has yet to delve into the complex question of whether they actually enjoy it. We as humans will often watch distressing footage or videos that make us feel a range of emotions, from distress to anger and horror. It's not always because it makes us feel good. We just don't know whether similar factors motivate dogs to watch.

What a dog does engage with, however, differs from dog to dog, depending on their personality, experience and preference. This is speculated to be influenced by what their owner watches, with dogs following their human's gaze and other communication signals, such as gestures and head turns.

Dogs, unlike humans, will also often have very short interactions, often under three seconds, with the media, preferring to glance at the TV rather than focus on it like humans. Research has found that even with media specifically designed for dogs, they will still spend the majority of their time watching nothing at all. The ideal television for dogs, therefore, should contain lots of snippets rather than long storytelling scenarios.

But while dogs have their own TV channel, and have been shown to prefer to watch other dogs through short interactions with specially coloured programmes, many mysteries remain. Nevertheless, technology has the potential to provide entertainment for domestic canines, improving the welfare of dogs left home alone and in kennels. Just don't expect a doggie version of the Radio Times just yet.

Explore further: Sick street dogs in Nepal failed by medical donations

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not rated yet Sep 08, 2016
"Dogs have dichromatic vision – they have two types of colour receptor cells and see colour within two spectrums of light: blue and yellow."

Doesnt mean they only see 2 colors. I know it didnt say that but just saying. We have 3 cones but see a whole spectrum. Not having red receptor would just mean their spectrum would end sooner.
not rated yet Sep 08, 2016
Not having red receptor would just mean their spectrum would end sooner

They distinguish significantly fewer hues of color. The width of the spectrum is the same or wider, but they can't tell the difference between some colors within it.

For example, if your vision is RGB and the dog's vision is RB, the dog can't tell the difference between magenta and white/grey, because the magenta color is the lack of green, and the dog with the RB vision wouldn't know if there's no green. Dichromatic vision is approximately blue-yellow but the mechanism is the same.

The dog can't tell the difference between a color that has blue and green, versus blue and red, because green and red both excite the yellow cones so they appear almost entirely identical - the only difference is that green light excites the blue cones a little, so the dog sees a little bit of difference but on the whole the hues appear more or less the same. Same problem at the blue end.

not rated yet Sep 08, 2016
The whole point of the system is that the sensitivity of the different cones overlap through the spectrum, so the brain can guess where the peak of the spectrum is. The more different primaries you can see, the more accurate the estimate, and you can also distinguish multiple peaks in the spectrum which leads to the perception of colors that don't actually exist in the rainbow, such as pink and magenta.

It's because we have an green receptor in the middle of the spectrum that we can tell whether a color is violet or turqoise. For a dicromat with blue-yellow vision, beyond the overlap area of the yellow receptors, every color looks the same shade of blue.

A dichromat has basically four colors. Beyond blue, beyond yellow, and in-between yellow and blue.
not rated yet Sep 10, 2016
In the real world there is a range of yellow frequencies, but computer screens are additive color so all yellows on the computer are not a single frequency from that range. Yellow on the tv or computer screen is a mix of red and green pixels. (Get your magnifier on any yellow patch on the screen to see for yourself.)
So what is a dog seeing when the computer screen is, to our eyes, yellow?
This article has, for me, not even begun to answer the question posed in the title.

not rated yet Sep 11, 2016
So what is a dog seeing when the computer screen is, to our eyes, yellow?


Yellow to us and the dog should look the same, whether it's made of actual yellow or a combination of red and green. The difference for the dog is that we can tell the difference between only red and only green, where the dog sees both as yellow.

Green looks a bit more bluish to the dog than red, but they're both essentially yellow. Note that we would call a bluish yellow "green", but for the dog's perception no such color as green exists.

Here's a graphic illustration:
not rated yet Sep 12, 2016
Eikka - With a little searching on the site I found your reference but I do not feel better informed by it.

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