When a friend told me about DOGTV, I assumed it was a joke. A new cable TV channel with programs for — not about, but for — dogs?! The Onion must be jerking our chain again, I thought. But no, DOGTV (billed as, what else, “a new breed of television”) is for real, a new digital media entrant in the race to grab a piece of the $50 billion dollar pet industry.
“Leave a Little Love On”
DOGTV has stepped up to meet a need 99% of the world’s population doesn’t know it has. We treat our dogs like children, and feel guilty about leaving them alone when we go to work; we use TV to baby-sit our children when we are busy, so why not deploy an electronic babysitter for our dogs, too? And since most households in the DOGTV demographic have more than one TV, most families will never have to fight the dog for the remote control. Once DOGTV (and it’s inevitable spin-off, CATTV) catch on, I ask you: could media rooms for pets be far behind?
DOGTV recently launched a pilot subscription service in San Diego (through Time Warner and Cox Communications), and plans to roll out to other areas soon. In the meantime, you can watch samples of DOGTV’s three types of programming (relaxation, stimulation, exposure) online.
The new service is endorsed by celebrity pet experts Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog and Warren Eckstein of The Pet Show. “This is not frivolous…..Dogs aren’t living in the woods anymore, they’re living in our environment and, let’s face it, part of our society is watching TV. So why shouldn’t dogs have their own channel?” reasons Mr. Eckstein in a video on the DOGTV website. (A large part of our society drives cars, too. Don’t dogs deserve their own cars, Mr. Eckstein? Are you listening, Detroit?)
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society, goes even further. “It’s about bringing enrichment and social stimulation to dogs when people are gone,” he asserts. Enrichment — doesn’t anyone read aloud to their dog anymore? I get the sense Mr. Pacelle believes future generations will pity the poor deprived dogs that grew up in the pre-DOGTV era. Up to now, my dog has been perfectly happy listening to NPR.
The Science Behind DOGTV
Lest we think DOGTV is another unnecessary, human-centric product for dogs (on the order of, say, Halloween costumes and bottled mineral water), the producers cite the latest scientific research in canine behavior and cognition to support the benefits of video entertainment for dogs.
In one of DOGTV’s promotional videos, Professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine explains that dogs can see a digital TV’s picture as clearly as we do, unlike in the old days of analog TV where the screen appeared to flicker to dogs’ eyes. The professor recommends watching the channel together with your dog for the first time to acclimate him or her to the experience. He notes that the colors and sounds may appear a bit odd to us, because they have been adjusted to accommodate the differences in canine vision and hearing.
Prof. Dodman says that some segments have bio-engineered soundtracks and images that produce relaxation effects, even sleep, in dogs, while other segments are designed to stimulate dogs by showing other dogs engaged in physical activity and play. The third category of programming, which DOGTV calls “exposure,” is intended to be educational; Prof. Dodman asserts that dogs can learn new behaviors by seeing other dogs experience unfamiliar situations on TV. (I’m not convinced my dog will learn not to bark at the doorbell, if he sees another dog not barking at the doorbell on TV!) Prof. Dodman cautions that we shouldn’t expect our dogs to sit and watch the screen continuously, but to pay attention intermittently. Whew, with the obesity epidemic in dogs, I’d hate to think we risk raising a generation of canine couch potatoes! But shouldn’t we worry that dogs will be prone to snacking while watching DOGTV?
But Does it Pass the Smell Test?
With all this talk of science, I’m surprised DOGTV doesn’t come with a companion fragrance disk. After all, a dog’s sense of smell is by far his most acute sense. Won’t it seem strange to a dog to see another dog on television without being able to smell it? Will alpha dogs be tempted to mark the area around their TV set in order to reclaim their home turf from the incursions of TV dogs?
Finally, I wonder if watching DOGTV will prompt feelings of envy, even resentment, in dogs left home alone watching other, more telegenic dogs having fun adventures in TV Land? Will my dog wonder why he can’t have all the beautiful things the beautiful TV dogs have? Most likely, my dog will never travel more than a few hundred miles from home; will it make him sad to think he’ll never visit the exciting places he sees on DOGTV? If dogs gather around the water bowl at the dog park to discuss the most recent episode of their favorite shows, will some dogs feel excluded if their families don’t have cable TV, or aren’t willing to pay an extra $5.99 per month to subscribe to DOGTV?
With the introduction of DOGTV, the global digital divide is no longer just a human problem.