Many dogs don’t seem to “see” the tv at all. It’s just noisy wallpaper to them, and not worth a glance - even when there’s a screech, a bang, shouting, an explosion … They totally ignore it.
But there are some who enjoy watching it, will cock their ears to study the images, and look and listen calmly.
And then! There are those who go ballistic when an animal, a fish, a bird, an insect - anything other than a human - ventures onto the screen. They may hurl themselves - with a cascade of barking - at the television, now covered in snuffles and nose-smears, or they may back off barking.
So nature programmes, advertisements featuring pets, and dog programmes in particular, can be the trigger for extreme angst and noise in your dog.
Cricket the Whippet will watch for a while if the screen continually shows dogs or wolves, but she’s mildly curious, not upset.
Coco Poodle on the other hand, became a basket-case as soon as he spotted a bear, or a swan, or a cartoon cat in a cat food ad. As for lots of dogs running towards the camera, he would completely lose it. He’d plunge at the screen, genuinely frightened at this incursion of apparently real tigers or wolves into his home.
Bob says of his young dog Tedd that “if he sees another dog on the tv he runs and barks at the screen: amusing at times, but watching 'The Incredible Journey' would be a no-no.”
What to do?
Once we discovered we had this problem with Coco’s 2d-image reactivity, we actually took the opposite course, and started recording animal programmes and leaving them playing (usually silently, so that the repetition didn’t drive the rest of the household mad).
So we became intimate with the private life of the wolf pack in Yellowstone, we saw endless clear rounds and knocked poles at the Horse of the Year Show, and just lately, Crufts has been a wonderful opportunity to get lots of calm dog-watching in.
Crufts is the world’s biggest dog show, and while many watch it to see the procession of show dogs in the breed rings, my interest is in the performance dogs. If you go to Youtube and search on Crufts 2016 you’ll find hours of videos of flyball, agility, dancing dogs, gundog displays, and so on. Connect things so you can play these on your big screen and you can enjoy watching them with your dog.
I always have some treats near to hand, so as soon as the image appears on-screen - and before Coco has even drawn breath to bark - I say “Yes!” and hold a treat by the side of his muzzle. This means he has to turn away from the screen to take the treat - thus breaking his obsessional gaze - then he’s free to look again. More Yeses, more treats. And over and over again till he can watch the screen in a genuine state of calm. Aficionados will recognise this as a form of “Look at That”, a brilliant calming game devised by Leslie McDevitt of Control Unleashed fame.
Here you can see Coco on my lap, quietly watching some breed judging at Crufts.
To fix or not to fix
But if you like watching tv programmes with animals in, this is something you’ll want to fix.
Keep in mind that it’s a fear reaction, and it’s pointless trying to punish an emotional response. Use the Coco Method above to settle your dog and get him to realise that he’s quite safe and nothing is going to burst through the screen and attack us.
Quite soon your dog will point out creatures on-screen and look for his reward for staying calm and quiet. Treat away!
More tips to deal with daily annoyances here.