I’ve often called the profusion of birds, squirrels, and other critters outside our windows Dog TV. It’s free, it’s fun, and it keeps Sierra and Bodhi entertained. When I recently heard about a new 24/7 cable channel for dogs that’s actually called DOGTV, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, it could be a great thing for dogs who don’t have access to a window on nature; on the other, it could be yet another gimmick to part dog owners with their hard-earned cash. But when I learned that Dr. Nicholas Dodman was the lead scientist on the project, I became interested in finding out more.
We all know that dogs can watch television and, as it turns out, the new plasma and LCD screens make it even easier for them to enjoy. DOGTV takes it one step further by designing all visual and auditory aspects of the programming specifically for dogs. The colors look different than on normal t.v. shows because they have been enhanced based on the colors that dogs can see, and specific attention has been paid to contrast, brightness, and frame rate. Potentially disturbing auditory frequencies have been eliminated, and sounds that dogs should find interesting have been inserted at appropriate times.
DOGTV rotates continually through three phases: The Stimulation phase includes fast movements and sounds such as people playing with a ball, and dogs running and playing, and is meant to “encourage the dog’s playfulness even when home alone.” The Relaxation phase is just the opposite, and pairs serene scenes such as beautiful landscapes with acoustically designed music to encourage rest and relieve stress. The last phase, Exposure, is designed to habituate dogs to such things as busy streets, vacuum cleaners, and other everyday stimuli to which they may need to become accustomed.
The website states that DOGTV was created to reduce the stress level of home alone dogs. It’s easy to imagine it would do just that for many dogs, above and beyond the old “leave the television on for the dog” strategy. I do have a few concerns, the first of which involves the Exposure phases. If a dog has a mild anxiety issue, such as being nervous on crowded streets due to a lack of early socialization, he might well become habituated by seeing and hearing the city scenes over and over. That could be very helpful, and might even save owners some time and effort in exposing young puppies to various stimuli. But if a dog has a serious fear issue—let’s say of those same crowded, noisy streets—where the fear level is beyond a simple habituation fix, those scenes could frighten the dog. It would be wonderful if the programming were customizable to accommodate individual dog’s issues, and who knows, perhaps that will be something the producers will offer in the future. I also wonder about the Stimulation phase—will it be so stimulating for some dogs that they will begin to bark at the screen, thereby causing a nuisance periodically throughout the day? Hopefully not, but it is something to take into account when considering whether the programming is right for an individual dog.
Although owners are instructed to watch with the dog the first time in order to get the dog used to the programming, it would be helpful to include a suggestion that DOGTV be left on regularly at intervals when the owner is at home as well, so that it doesn’t become a discriminatory signal that the owner is away. And although the FAQ states that “DOGTV’s relaxing sounds, special music and fun visuals, provide the perfect company for dogs so that they never have to feel alone again,” I hope owners of dogs with serious separation issues realize that the issue is not likely to be fixed by this solution alone. A disclaimer that for dogs with serious separation anxiety, DOGTV should be used as part of or in conjunction with a behavior modification program would be helpful. (And yes, this is the part where I plug my book Don’t Leave Me: Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, which does have those protocols and more. And should DOGTV prove to be successful, I will gladly add it as a resource in the next edition.)
While DOGTV may not be the answer for dogs who are reactive or barky when seeing other dogs, or those who have serious fear issues about subjects shown in the Exposure sections, it seems to be well grounded in science. It’s also a very clever idea, and is well designed. Whether it’s used simply to prevent boredom or as part of a behavior modification program, I believe DOGTV does have the potential to make life less stressful for many home alone dogs, as well as those in shelter environments. I look forward to hearing the results of the research that will surely be forthcoming.