DOGTV?

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.

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8 Responses to DOGTV?

  1. I share some of the same concerns as you do especially with noise phobic and separation anxiety affected dogs. I also wonder if a lot of the movement in the Stimulation phase would cause the dog to run around? I could see my new LCD tv crashing to the floor with my Siberians! BTW, I noticed that my girl Sibe enjoys the Arthur Cartoon on PBS 😉 Thanks for you thoughtful post on this!

  2. Cybele says:

    Dog tv isn’t free. Cable costs $4.99 per month and streaming $9.99. Interesting concept but pricey, especially for those of us who have quit cable.

  3. Matt Tucker says:

    I decided to pick up the streaming service (and yes, it’s a bit pricy, but manageable for a couple months) to try to work on some reactivity issues with my dogs.

    I have concerns about the cavalier nature of their advice to essentially “just turn it on and forget about it”, but I think the programming offers some excellent content for someone who’s interested in actively working with a reactive dog. And for that I really appreciate the offering.

    • Suzanne says:

      I have tried many things with one of my dogs to lessen his separation anxiety. He has another dog, that he gets along with excellently, to keep him company, but I have come home occasionally to find baseboard or door trim chewed or scratched up (in my new home, I might add — ugh!). This has only been going on for a few months, and I have not been able to identify what triggers this behavior, he will go a long time without doing it, then will chew again just out of the blue. The best preventive is exercise, of course, but sometimes I can’t get him outdoors on workdays. If DogTV is $9.99/mo. to stream, it might be worth not having to replace baseboard/door trim on a regular basis…

      • wildewmn says:

        Suzanne,

        I hope the DogTV helps. You might also want to check out my book “Don’t Leave Me!” which is a step by step guide to helping modify canine separation anxiety. It’s got some outside-the-box creative suggestions you might not have considered. 😉

        Take care,
        Nicole

      • Suzanne says:

        I see that it’s available on Kindle so am checking out the sample now. 🙂

      • Suzanne says:

        UPDATE! I just wanted to let you know, your book helped tremendously. Using your guidelines, I assessed what was making my dog chew when I was not home. He didn’t do it all the time, so it didn’t seem like separation anxiety, as you pointed out that real separation anxiety tends to happen EVERY time an owner leaves. His problem was that he needed more, and more regular, exercise to burn up the excess energy that was making him want to chew! So now I get up early every morning and walk him and my other dog — they love it and I get more exercise too! We also do weekend hikes, and they swim in the creeks or in my mom’s pool too! And I’m happy to say, I finally replaced the chewed-up woodwork and have had no further problems!

  4. wildewmn says:

    Hi Suzanne, I’m so glad to hear that you found “Don’t Leave Me!” helpful and that your dog is doing so much better. That’ great about walking both dogs every morning now. Our dogs are our exercise coaches, too. 😉

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