Dog owners deal with a lot of odd behavior from their dogs. But if your dog barks while you watch TV, that may be one of the most annoying things. Research shows they can tell it's a dog onscreen when you watch your favorite show, but they can't really tell that it's not a dog in real life. Some dogs don't seem to notice other dogs onscreen, while some dogs may totally lose it if they hear or see an onscreen dog. What causes this behavior?
Dogs recognize other dogs
Animal researchers already know that dogs can identify images of other dogs when they are shown them among pictures of humans and other animals. A 2013 study published in the journal Animal Cognition showed that dogs have brain systems that are similar enough to humans to be able to differentiate species and recognize a dog when they see one. This is an important ability when species must live and "work" together as a group.
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The dogs in the study were able to group together photos of various dogs that were of different breeds and crossbreeds, and domestic and wild animals. The researchers said that the dogs proved that they can use visual cues alone to group together any type of dog.
Some dogs may be more inclined to bark at TV than others
National Geographic says that whether a dog will be reactive to another dog that they see or hear during your favorite show or will simply ignore it is an enigmatic mix of personality and breed. If the onscreen dogs catches a dog's attention, they may perk up their ears, while others may run around behind the TV to try and find it, or bark uncontrollably, while others may simply do nothing at all. A very territorial or reactive dog may be more inclined to try toward "barking" the other dog out of its territory than a dog who is more shy or more accepting of other dogs in general.
A dog like a scent hound, which relies heavily on scent cues, may not even notice other dogs unless they're in front of them in real life. However, another type of dog that is more of a herding dog breed may be much more interested in the dog they see or hear that is moving or seemingly "approaching."
Early training and socialization may also come into play. If your dog saw a dog on TV when they were younger, and got some sort of positive reaction or response, that may have encouraged them to repeat the behavior.
Can dogs really see slow motion?
Although dogs have shown that they can differentiate between a dog and other species based on the visual appearance alone, there are some differences in a dog's eyesight when compared to our own. There's a common belief that dogs can see motion at a much faster scale than humans can. But recent studies have called that into question. A 2017 study published in Scientific Reports is entitled "Dogs are not better than humans at detecting coherent motion."
That study concluded that it took dogs more tries and longer attempts to perceive motion in a test. A 2020 study published in Current Zoology wanted to test dogs' ability to detect velocity. That study cited the earlier study and also concluded that dogs seem to be better at detecting slow motion than other non-primate species. It also concluded that dogs may be slightly better than cats in detecting slow motion, and that dogs' visual system seemed able to detect movement of relatively larger objects.
Previous knowledge held that to a dog, the moving images they saw on TV flickered like an old movie that showed fewer frames per second than modern televisions. Visually, they also see less colors than we do — they see a range of only the two primary colors yellow and blue.
Dogs watching DogTV
DogTV is a cable channel created specifically for dogs who like to watch other dogs on TV. If your dog really seems to like the experience of thinking that there's other dogs nearby (and doesn't get aggressive or territorial, for instance) DogTV could provide hours of enrichment.
They say that "dogs respond to what they see on TV screens and pay most attention when they see other dogs, animals, and moving objects." Dog owners all over have anecdotally shared that their dogs seem to like watching TV, and they also cited a survey conducted by the American Kennel Club and Iams dog food in which nearly half of those surveyed had dogs that showed some interest in what was happening on the television screen.
What to do if your dog excessively barks while you watch TV
If your dog is barking whenever they see or hear a dog on TV, it could become a nuisance. As with all things related to dog behavior you want to change, positive reinforcement is the key. If you want peace and quiet in which to be able to watch that new rom-com with the dog as the bestie that brings the love couple together, it may help to distract your dog through treats and toys whenever the dog is onscreen.
Try a distraction like a stuffed Kong. If you know you're setting yourself up for a Netflix and chill evening, think ahead and prep your stuffed Kong with peanut butter and keep it in the freezer to make it extra long-lasting. Licki mats are affordable plastic mats that look like placemats with ridges on which you can spread spreadable treats so they can lick lick lick away. Whichever method you use, try to redirect the troublesome barking by making sure your dog's attention is focused elsewhere when the dogs are onscreen.
Some dogs may be more inclined to bark while you watch TV than other dogs. Herding dogs or guard dog-type dogs who may be more territorial or more geared toward motion sensitivity may be more likely to be the dogs barking at the onscreen dogs. If TV or radio dogs always get your dog's attention, try distracting them with a toy like a stuffed Kong along with positive reinforcement for his good behavior.
- Animal Cognition: Dog spots the dog: Dogs recognize the dog species among several other species on a computer screen
- National Geographic: Why Do Dogs Watch—and React to—TV?
- Scientific Reports: Dogs are not better than humans at detecting coherent motion
- Current Zoology: Are dogs good at spotting movement? Velocity thresholds of motion detection in Canis familiaris
- DogTV: FAQ
- Licki Mat: Home