Why Do Pets Watch TV?

Not all animals seem to watch TV, but some do. We’ve all known a dog who barks at Lassie or Garfield, or a cat that bats at the television when the Nature Channel shows songbirds. Why do some pets seem to watch TV, while others don’t? And do they understand what the images they’re seeing are– representations of other things, rather than a window into another world full of tiny Collies?

Which Pets Watch TV

There’s no way to absolutely predict whether or not a particular pet will enjoy televsion, but generally a pet that’s already visually oriented is more likely to watch TV than one who is not. Small pets like hamsters or rats rarely notice television, because they are so small that the images just don’t mean anything to them. Parrots often watch and sometimes even talk to or mimic television programs.

Sight-oriented dog breeds are possibly the most common TV-watching pets. Sighthounds like Salukis and Greyhounds may bark at or chase small animals and other dogs on television. I knew a Welsh Corgi (a herding breed) who would chase an image of an animal across the screen, then, when it disappeared on the other side, the dog would search for it behind the TV. Rottweilers are sometimes avid TV-watchers, being both originally a herding breed and also of a size that puts most TV sets at their standing eye level.

Cats often watch TV, but many cat owners report that their pets prefer HD programming and will watch HDTV for hours on end. This may have something to do with the highly acute vision enjoyed by cats, as opposed to the dimmer vision of dogs.

Can Pets Understand Television?

Generally, even the smart pets who understand that the images on TV represent other people and animals don’t make the leap to learning that they are merely images, and not real people and animals somehow hiding in or behind the television set. It seems that, like mirrors, television is beyond the comprehension of most pets. This doesn’t mean pets are stupid. However, there is no reason a dog, cat, bird, or other pet should have to understand that images can look and sound like people or animals without actually being living creatures. Especially in the case of prey animals, it’s safest to assume that if it looks like a predator, it probably is exactly that.

There is some anecdotal evidence that a few rare pets watch TV and understand that the images on the screen are just that. I have heard stories of parrots who will change the television channel or ask verbally for a favorite program. There are also owners who claim their dogs or cats will lie quietly and watch a movie with interest, without attempting to interact with the animals on screen.

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