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Dogs' favorite TV: shows with other dogs, nature docs

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay Reporter
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/HealthDay
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/HealthDay

Ever wonder what your dog most likes to watch on TV?

Think nature documentaries, Lassie or good old Scooby-Doo, a new study suggests.

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Dogs are most engaged when watching videos that feature other animals, according to a study published recently in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.

The study is part of an overall effort to develop better ways to check canine vision, which the researchers say is sorely lacking in veterinary medicine.

"The method we currently use to assess vision in dogs is a very low bar. In humans, it would be equivalent to saying yes or no if a person was blind," said researcher Freya Mowat, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine.

"We need more sensitive ways to assess vision in dogs, using a dog eye chart equivalent," Mowat added in a university news release. "We speculate that videos have the potential for sustaining a dog's attention long enough to assess visual function, but we didn't know what type of content is most engaging and appealing to dogs."

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To figure out what canines like to watch, Mowat created a web-based questionnaire for dog owners around the world to report their four-legged friends' TV habits.

The survey included questions about the types of screens in a home, how dogs interact with the screens and the kinds of content that most engaged them. Owners also described how their dogs behaved while watching videos.

Unlike humans, data show that dogs are commonly active when watching TV -- running, jumping, vocalizing and tracking the action on the screen, rather than lying down or sitting as they watched.

Dog owners also had the option of showing their dog four short videos featuring subjects of possible interest: a panther, a dog, a bird and road traffic.

Based on more than 1,200 responses, researchers concluded that:

  • Video content featuring animals was the most popular among dogs
  • Other dogs were by far the most engaging subjects to watch
  • Humans weren't that interesting, ranking ninth out of 17 categories
  • Age and vision were related to how much a dog interacted with a screen
  • Sporting and herding dogs were more likely than other breeds to engage with any type of TV
  • Movement on screens was a strong draw for dogs' attention

These results will be used to develop video-based methods that can track changes in visual attention as dogs age, Mowat said.

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"We know that poor vision negatively impacts quality of life in older people, but the effect of aging and vision changes in dogs is largely unknown because we can't accurately assess it," Mowat said. "Like people, dogs are living longer, and we want to make sure we support a healthier life for them, as well."

Understanding how a dog's vision ages also could help the humans who share their home, Mowat added.

"Dogs have a much shorter lifespan than their owner, of course, and if there are emerging environmental or lifestyle factors that influence visual aging, it might well show up in our dogs decades before it shows up in us," Mowat explained. "Our dogs could be our sentinels -- the canine in the proverbial coal mine."

More information

The American Kennel Club has more about dog vision loss.

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