Have you ever noticed your dog taking interest in something you are watching on the television? If so, you may have wondered what they might be thinking, or if they are even seeing the same things that we are, or in the same way that we are.
As it turns out, dogs do in fact notice and understand pictures that they see on the television screen, as well as the sounds that accompany them. These days, with the evolution of television and more high-resolution and digital broadcasting, dogs literally see a brand new picture, with much more clarity than before. There are even scientific studies in which the results show us how they see and process images, why they are attracted in the first place, and whether or not they understand what they are watching.
Is There Any Proof?
A 2013 study shows that dogs can pick out pictures of other dogs apart from humans, and group them into categories using only visual clues. It is a known fact that like-species gather for social interactions and dogs recognized and were drawn to their own species on the television screen more readily than images of anything else. Possibly an evolutionary measure based on breeding needs, it is an important facet of a dog’s life.
There is even a channel especially for dogs on HDTV called DogTV. The channel has more frames per second than regular television and is specifically colored for a dog’s specific sight. Since dogs can process visual information faster than humans, what they see is quite different from what we see.
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Herding dogs, in particular, are motivated by moving objects (think flocks of sheep). They watch the television much more intently that other breeds for this reason.
Human depth perception is the ability to distinguish a 3-dimensional worldview from the 2-dimensional images from the retina. This comes about from the human cognitive ability to reason and formulate similarities of experiences. For dogs, the term could more readily be described as depth sensation as their means of locating objects that they have seen.
The evolutionary adaptation known as binocular vision allows the eyes of some mammals to move in simultaneous directions, also known as "vergence". When something is view close up, ocular convergence is promoted. Seeing objects in the distance, on the other hand, promotes ocular divergence. Both canine eyes then work together in a state known as fixation where two different images come together to create depth sensation, which is promoted by binocular overlap.
This comes into play while dogs watch television in that they realize the objects are not actually with them, but on some other plane all together. It doesn’t thwart their curiosity, however, and often leads to complete fixation on the images on the television screen.
Field of View
The term "field of view" describes how different parts are seen at any given point in time along the visual plane. Dogs who are predators have a very narrow field of view and depend more on binocular overlap to, or depth sensation, to visually locate and isolate prey. Their maximum field of view is about 240 degrees, while animals of prey have a nearly 360-degree field of view, for protection reasons.
This field of view possessed by dogs may immediately attract some breeds to a moving picture, but once they determine that there’s nothing really happening, they may quickly lose interest.
Humans have many more cones in their eyes than dogs do, therefore human eyesight is very sensitive to movement of bright lights. Dog retinas have far fewer cones, are much more sensitive to lower light situations. They are also much more capable of noticing a moving target and can hone in on moving objects at further distances than stationary objects that are quite near them.
This ability to monitor movement is another reason dogs are capable of seeing and paying attention to television. They may not have a good idea of what is going on within the program, but they can see that action is taking place. When their curiosity is satisfactorily piqued, they will pay more attention.
Dogs and Television
Old style American televisions that work from tube technology have a frame rate of 60Hz, meaning that the frame refreshes sixty times per second. Newer television, models known as HDTV, refresh at a much faster rate. Many images on the television screen appear stationary to humans, as their rate of vision is slower than that of the television. At about 50Hz, images would appear, to the human, to look like images from a flipbook. Dogs, on the other hand, get the flipbook imaging up to 75Hz, so the images have to have a higher refresh rate to appear fluid to a dog.
To dogs, the older televisions reflect images that they perceive as simple flickers of movement or light, however, the newer televisions present more fluidity and make images appear more realistic to the canine eye’s abilities.
Some dogs even use face-tracking as a means of identifying and relating to information they see on the television screen. However, as a study has shown, face-recognition in dogs is a trained behavior that can cause dogs to focus on the images that they see on the television screen, effectively overshadowing their natural abilities and responses in this scenario.
Dogs are initially attracted to the television because of certain sounds that they hear. Once the noise has their attention, and they then find out where the sound is coming from, they begin to focus on the images and, depending on the breed of dog and the way their eyes function, interact with the stimulus or not. It was found that some of the sounds that elicited the most response from dogs was other dogs barking or whining, the sound of the human voice giving friendly commands or praise and the sounds of squeaky toys.