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Dogs' favorite TV shows revealed in new global study

Have you ever wondered what TV shows your dog would choose if they could use the remote control? This whimsical question forms the basis of a significant study by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

While the idea of dogs as television enthusiasts might seem amusing, the research aimed to address a critical gap in veterinary medicine: the need for more refined methods to assess canine vision.

Assessing eyesight in dogs

Professor Freya Mowat, a veterinary ophthalmologist, explains that the research sought to identify factors like age and vision that affect a dog’s interest in screen content.

The ultimate objective, initiated two years ago, was to create more nuanced methods for evaluating canine vision, a vital yet underdeveloped area in veterinary science.

“We currently have a rudimentary approach to assessing dogs’ vision, akin to simply determining if a human is blind or not,” Mowat states.

“We need more refined tools, similar to an eye chart for dogs. Our hypothesis is that engaging videos could maintain a dog’s attention long enough to evaluate their visual capabilities, but we were uncertain about which types of content would be most captivating.”

What dogs like to watch on TV

In a novel approach to understanding dogs’ screen preferences, Mowat developed a web-based survey for dog owners worldwide.

The questionnaire sought details about the types of screens in homes, how dogs interact with them, and the content that most captures their attention. It also gathered data on each dog’s age, sex, breed, and location.

Owners were encouraged to describe their dogs’ reactions to videos, typically categorized as active (running, jumping, tracking on-screen action, vocalizing) or passive (lying down, sitting).

Additionally, owners had the option to show their dogs four short videos featuring a panther, another dog, a bird, and traffic.

They were then asked to rate their dog’s interest level and how attentively they followed the moving objects on the screen.

The study reveals that dogs are most captivated by videos featuring other animals, particularly those showcasing other dogs.

Interestingly, while a National Geographic documentary on canine evolution might seem too sophisticated, a classic cartoon like Scooby Doo could be an equally appealing choice.

Insights into dog TV preferences

Roughly 1,600 dog owners worldwide participated to shed light on the visual attention and preferences of our four-legged friends.

This global effort, spanning the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Australasia, successfully garnered 1,246 complete responses, revealing fascinating insights into canine behavior.

  1. A dog’s age and vision correlate with its level of screen interaction.
  2. Sporting and herding breeds tend to engage with screen content more than others.
  3. Animal-centric videos are the most popular, with dogs being the top subjects of interest.
  4. Surprisingly, humans rank low in dogs’ viewing preferences.
  5. Over 10% of dogs find cartoons engaging.
  6. On-screen movement is a key factor in capturing dogs’ attention.

The bigger picture

Building on these findings, Mowat plans to delve deeper into how we can better understand and enhance the lives of our canine companions.

“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,” she says.

“Like people, dogs are living longer, and we want to make sure we support a healthier life for them as well.”

This upcoming research will focus on developing and optimizing video-based methods to assess changes in visual attention as dogs age.

Additionally, it aims to address questions that could aid in ensuring dogs age gracefully.

Canines as sentinels of human health

Another intriguing aspect of Mowat’s future research is the comparison between the aging of dogs’ vision and that of their human companions.

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 explains. “Our dogs could be our sentinels — the canine in the proverbial coal mine.”

In summary, by exploring these areas, Mowat’s research promises to enhance our understanding of our canine friends, while offering insights into human health and aging.

This study, therefore, stands as a testament to the deep bond between humans and dogs, and the ways in which this bond can lead to mutual benefits and discoveries.

The full study was published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.


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