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'Dog TV' to soothe canine souls

Bandit, as told to Robert MacPherson
18 May 2012
Dog TV has no commercials - not even for dog food
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"Bandit" watches Dog TV in Washington, DC. Dog TV says it's "the first television channel for dogs," with "scientifically developed" 24/7 programming full of frisky hounds running leashless in lush green fields to soothing strains of meditative music

I lead a dog's life. Good food. Long walks. A fulfilling job chasing off the mailman. So what's all this about a television channel that's created just for Fido?

Dog TV says it's "the first television channel for dogs," with "scientifically developed" 24/7 programming full of frisky hounds like me running leashless in lush green fields to soothing strains of meditative music.

"Most of the time, dogs are interested more in their owners than in TV," Dog TV's creator Yossi Uzrad, owner himself of a Labrador and a rescue mutt, told my master the other day.

"But if you leave them alone for a few hours, definitely it will entertain them."

Yes. Home alone. Never a good thing for us pack animals. Humans, take note.

Dog TV premiered in April on two cable networks in San Diego, California, where Uzrad said the take-up has been "really much more than we predicted."

Its Israeli producers, Jasmine Television, hope to see Dog TV on cable systems elsewhere in the United States and abroad in the coming months.

Don't have cable? It's also available as streaming video for $9.99 a month, along with apps for the usual smartphones and tablets.

"It's probably much cheaper" than a day of doggie day care, which in the United States can run for $35 to $50, Uzrad said.

Oh, and no commercials -- not even for dog food.

Americans own 78.2 million dogs, and even with a sluggish economy, they've kept up spending on their pets -- more than $52 billion this year alone, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is Dog TV's "chief scientist." He says he's long been recommending television as an antidote for dogs with separation anxiety.

"I call it environmental enrichment and I've been doing it for years," said Dodman, who pointed to a growing body of published scientific research papers into how pets relate to television.

"The point of this is not to have dogs sitting down and watching TV for hours on end like we might," he added. "It's just that there's something in the room that breaks the monotony of being home alone."

Studies have indicated that 60 to 70 percent of Americans already leave a television or radio on when they leave their dogs alone, so what's special about the programming on Dog TV?

Motion, for one thing -- at least that's what caught my eye when my master parked his iPad in front of my nose for the sake of journalistic research.

I perked up for a few seconds at the sight of King Charles Spaniel puppies playing with dog toys. I did it again for an animated ball rolling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth across the screen.

I then promptly went back to snoozing, which happens to be another Dog TV theme: yellow retrievers napping to soothing "bio-acoustically engineered" melodies typically played on a single instrument.

"The worst (soundtrack) would be 'The 1812 Overture' or heavy metal," Dodman said.

The programming probably couldn't have gotten off the ground without digital television.

Conventional analog sets functioned with diagonal scans that humans couldn't see, but we dogs should. "Analog TV flickers," Uzrad said.

"Dogs can't see the picture in the proper way." Digital changes everything.

Alexandra Horowitz, a Columbia University psychologist and author of "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know," who is not connected with Dog TV, said she welcomed attempts to find something dogs will enjoy doing.

"Given their sensory experience and social ancestry, though, I would love to see owners focused more on olfactory experiences for their dogs -- 'Smell TV' would be great -- and social outings," she said.

My inner hound can sure relate to that.

It's also possible that Dog TV will cultivate a loyal following among folks who just enjoy looking for hours on end at cute dogs in colorful places.

Or it might just stir my owners to get off the couch and get the leash, so I can take them out for a walk.

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