Dogs won’t like DogTV

Ryan Vogt / Slate /

Published Sep 20, 2013 at 05:00AM

Americans spend an average of five hours a day watching TV. Human Americans, that is. As pet owners know, our furry wards just don’t share our interest in “Rock My RV With Bret Michaels,” or even “Cesar Millan’s Leader of the Pack.” Animals may spend a lot of time in front of the television as our companions, but they rarely watch it.

The folks behind DogTV aim to change that. Billed as “the perfect babysitter for dogs who have to stay home alone,” DogTV isn’t a TV channel about dogs; it’s a TV channel for them. Airing 24 hours a day, DogTV shows short clips of canines in a variety of situations — chasing each other, riding in the car with their owners, napping, and, perversely, being visited by the mailman. The stated goal is to provide your four-legged friends with relaxation and stimulation — just like human TV! — for that portion of the day when owners aren’t around to take their dogs on car rides.

The channel, which costs $4.99 monthly, launched on DirecTV earlier this summer; it’s also available through online streaming and Roku boxes.

There’s only one problem: It won’t work. DogTV may attract its share of bipedal viewers, but its target audience might as well be dog-sat by “Family Feud.”

One reason that dogs don’t care about TV is it doesn’t look like TV to them — it looks like a slideshow powered by a dim strobe light. Dogs see the world at a faster frame rate than humans do.

Not so fast, say the folks at DogTV. That may have been true on the old tube TVs, but dogs are increasingly able to see TV images normally. How? “New LCD technology,” DogTV answers. “The refresh rate on the newer television screens is now 100Hz and up, perfect for continuous canine viewing.”

Even if he can see DogTV clearly, though, Fido isn’t likely to react to it. As Katherine Houpt, a professor of animal behavior at Cornell University, told me, dogs don’t want to watch TV while you’re gone — they want to sleep. “Most dogs sleep while you’re gone and wake up every 20 minutes or so and get a drink of water and scratch themselves and turn around and go back to sleep,” she says.