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2012-04-25 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

DogTV is a new breed of programming, an all-canine cable channel, designed to keep your dog relaxed, entertained and stimulated while you are away.

Macaulay Culkin would approve. He knows what it’s like to be “home alone,” as do many of the 46 million dogs currently living in US households.

DogTV claims to soothe stay-at-home dogs suffering from separation anxiety, and enrich those who are just plain bored when either are left unattended for long periods of time. People have long reported that their dogs watch TV. Dogs seem to respond to TV dogs. In the 1980s, my silly Afghans raced out and ran to a window in another room after seeing Zeus and Apollo on Magnum PI rushing toward the screen. They expected to find Tom Selleck’s barking Dobermans in our driveway.

For years, owners have been leaving a TV or radio on as company and comfort for their pups when they go out. Thirty-five years ago, I first encountered this phenomenon when I heard my sister-in-law ask her German Shepherd if he liked a particular radio station before we left him alone. She turned the dial until he approved. Meanwhile, my parents’ Lhasa howled during the jingle to the final Jeopardy question every afternoon. Either he was trying to give Alex Trebeck an answer, or the annoying tune assaulted his ears.

Presently one million subscribers to two cable companies in San Diego have access to a pilot program of DogTV. Feedback has been so encouraging that PTV Media, the parent company, plans to offer the channel nationally within a few months. A subscription to the eight-hour block of on-demand programs will cost about $5 a month. There are no commercials, not even juicy burger ads that would appeal to your pup’s tummy.

Current studies on the canine brain suggest that the move away from analog television improved the canine viewing experience. A dog’s eye processes flickering movement at a different rate than ours. Technological advances such as digital sets and high definition have contributed to more dogs showing interest in watching television. Large flat screens allow them to see from anywhere in the room.

DogTV is tailored to a dog’s perspective and perception. Cameramen get on their knees to shoot low. An episode with a joyful Golden Retriever frolicking in a cornfield is shot from a pup’s point of view. Certain colors are enhanced and others muted because dogs see blue, yellow and gray, but not green or red. Sounds are altered, editing out irritating, high frequencies and blaring noise like explosions, while soothing music written especially for dogs is added as background. These pooch lullabies sound like elevator music to us. Colors, brightness, camera angles, contrast and sound are all adjusted to fit a dog’s sensory abilities. The screen may look somewhat odd to us, but it is reality TV to Rover.

According to the company’s website: “DogTV is the perfect babysitter for dogs who have to stay home alone. Research shows that dogs feel better in the company of television, especially when the right content is on. DogTV’s three types of programming offer relaxing and stimulating content as well as positive behavioral reinforcements. Dogs that are left alone tend to become anxious so the relaxing sounds were created to keep the dog calm and peaceful. Many dogs also suffer from lack of stimulation, which becomes acute when their owner is away. The stimulating content will provide the dog with invigorating images, animation and exciting realworld sounds to keep the dog up and running. DogTV’s programming meets a dog’s typical daily cycle and helps prevent mental fatigue, depression and boredom.”

Content is mainly dogs, but dogs love to see other active animals like birds, monkeys and zebras too.

When the TV Pomeranian runs, your couch potato may be inspired to take a lap around the living room. Wouldn’t you like to see proof on a nanny camera? Easy does it. Having your dog dive through the screen to catch a Frisbee would be counterproductive.

Experts including Warren Eckstein, Victoria Stillwell and Dr. Nicholas Dodman, head of the animal behavior studies at Tufts University, guide production of DogTV. Dodman states that dogs definitely recognize dogs on TV, and may react differently to their own breed. He also feels that exposing pups to video images of other dogs may act as a form of socialization, as do scenes of familiar everyday events like doorbells, crying infants, other pets and delivery men.

The Escondido Humane Society just outside of San Diego is testing relaxation-only DogTV video.

The shelter handles more than 5,000 dogs a year, many large, high-energy dogs that tend to go cage crazy with prolonged confinement. The staff saw immediate results when combining the videos with two 20-minute walks a day. Even dogs that couldn’t see the screen benefited from being within hearing distance of the calming sounds.

What is next after DogTV? Possibly adding a CatTV channel in the future. Once technology progresses to DogTV “Smellevision” with programmed scents, could a K-9 QVC channel be far behind? If nothing else, it will be time to lock up your remote and credit cards.

For Adoption at Last Hope Adoption Center, 3300 Beltagh Ave. in Wantagh-Many lovely dogs and cats are available. “Isabelle & Morsel” are a pair of bonded eight-year-old Dachshunds, absolutely adorable, that came from an overcrowded Virginia shelter. Their VA paperwork states that if you say: “Dachshund Party of Two,” they will come running. It would be nice to be able to keep them together.

Last Hope added a trio of needy West Virginia dogs. “Jakie” a three-year-old Beagle/Lab was a stray turned over to the same mountain man who chained “Dana” to a box in his yard last winter (Beacon “Pets” 12/22/11 online.) “Jakie” was chained in his yard too. This 32 lb. fellow is super-loving, and would do whatever was required to become someone’s best friend. He is shown here taking a Cats 101 crash course. For dog details, call 631-946-9528.

Male: “Bounce” seven-month-old Shepherd/ smooth Collie puppy from WV. Bounce talks…

Female: “Margie” four-month-old Shepherd mix puppy from Hempstead Shelter; “Abby” two-year-old Shepherd/ Aussie Blue Heeler from WV. Abby is a doll and loves to play Frisbee; “Gloria” five-year-old Hound/Lab from VA.

**Free Rabies Vaccine Clinic for dogs and cats provided by Last Hope at Babylon Town Shelter, 51 Lamar St. W. Babylon on Sat., May 5 from 11 am to 2 pm. Babylon Shelter is also offering low-cost microchips for $25 which includes registration. Open to all LI pet owners. Dogs must be leashed; cats in carriers. Call 516-223- 6673 for more info.

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