Can Dogs Watch Television?

What does a dog see on a CRT style television screen? Do they insist on new LCD/LED or Plasma screens for their entertainment?
20 June 2010


A terrier pet dog



Why can't dogs watch CRT-style TVs? Can they see the images on LCD and LED TVs?


We posed this question to David Williams, an Ophthalmologist at Cambridge Vet School...

David: - When we look at a picture on TV or the film in the cinema, it seems that we are seeing a complete flowing image. But actually, what we're looking at is lots of individual frames. They seem to flow together because our eyes don't notice the change from one image to the next. Old fashioned TVs and films produce images at about 24 frames every second and that's fine for people because we have what we called a 'flicker fusion frequency' how quick the image needs to change of about 16 to 20 times a second.

But when we looked at dogs, we looked at them behaviourally. It's shown that their flicker fusion frequency is a lot higher than ours, maybe 40 to 80 frames a second. That means that when a dog's looking at an old fashioned TV or a movie, it would see it to be flickering a lot.

If you look at modern plasma screens and digital TVs, they renew their images a lot faster, maybe up to a thousand times a second. So, theoretically, our pets should be able to see things a lot better on more modern TVs, but that's just a theory.

Science needs the evidence, doesn't it? What's the evidence? If you type in dog watching TV onto YouTube online, you'll find nearly 4,000 results and most of them will convince you that actually, most dogs certainly react to animals easily on a TV screen, sometimes quite dramatically.

But of course there, the trouble is we don't know what sort of TV is being used, do we? And how much do other confounding variables will say - things like sound that the animal might be reacting to rather than just the pictures. So it's not much of a controlled experiment. But just watching the reaction of the dogs on those video clips on YouTube shows to my mind convincingly that dogs are reacting to what they see on TV even if we can't be quite sure what they're seeing.

You know what? I'd like to say, if you've put a dog or a cat that loves watching TV and lives very near Cambridge, would you contact me - David Williams at Cambridge Vet School - so we can do a bit more research to look further into this in a bit more controlled way.

Diana: - It seems likely that dogs can watch new, high refreshed rates televisions. I'm probable that old CRT TVs would simply have appeared too flickery for them to make out a moving image. And on the forum, JP said that their dog would certainly react to seeing and hearing another on a CRT screen. So much so that she tries to run around the back of the TV to find the other dog.


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