Does Your Dog Dig TV? College Uses Canine Couch Potatoes for Human Vision Insight

What’s your dog’s must-see TV? Not to hound you, but University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Freya Mowat would like to know.

Surely every mutt has his or her own taste; Bernese mountain dog Theo, for instance, enjoys binging on boob tube birds.

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That revelation informs Freya’s research.

As reported by The Cap Times, the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine professor is investigating canine television viewing habits.

Could such information change the world?

It doggone could:

The results could help develop more efficient ways to test eyesight in canines, as well as understand factors contributing to visual aging in both dogs and humans.

Back to Theo, he tracks the birds’ movements and lunges toward the screen “as if he’s trying to say Hi.”

And that’s the kind of thing Freya — who also works in the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences — needs to know:

“The goal is to figure out what content is universally most engaging for dogs.”

Her insight into eyesight comes courtesy of a survey you can take online.

A sampling:

  • Out of the 24 hours in a typical day, how many hours does your dog spend away from or outside the home?
  • Out of the 24 hours in a typical day, how many hours does your dog spend alone (not in the company of humans or other animals they enjoy being around)?
  • How often does your dog watch or engage with any screen when it is on/active in the home?

Some queries are multiple-choice:

Do you do any of the following things to entertain your dog when you are not home?

  • Play dog-specific television/video content (e.g. subscription TV channels or other dog-content from online sources)
  • Play regular television/video content (not dog-specific)
  • Play sounds or music (e.g. radio)
  • Provide interactive toys
  • Use an interactive pet camera to communicate with your dog
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And:

Does your dog react or respond in any of the following scenarios or situations?

  • Reflections of self or other objects on a screen when it is turned off
  • Reflections of self or other objects in a mirror
  • Images or video of themselves (e.g. on video chats)
  • Images or video of a familiar dog (e.g. on video chats)
  • Images or video of a familar person (e.g. on video chats)

The questionnaire offers four clips to show your dog, so you can report their reaction.

As for Telly binging in front of the telly, “It’s a fun thing to think about as a concept,” Freya figures. “What do our dogs watch when we watch TV? Are they watching it, too?”

But it’s more than just a pet project:

“[The information] tells us what we can do…in terms of developing health testing for our pets that’s actually meaningful.”

Presently, there’s a dearth of ways to appraise dogs’ perception:

“The ability to look more into the detail of what dogs can see is kind of a big black hole. There isn’t much nuance.”

But Freya’s on a path to improvement.

And per The Cap Times, such studies may help prevent human macular degeneration:

By showing imagery that captures the pets’ attention, veterinarians and researchers can present them at different sizes or lighting exposures to determine the point in which they start to lose interest.

In creating a parallel way of tracking vision for their furry companions’ eyesight, Mowat said it can also help in her research on how human vision declines over time. …

Since dogs have shorter lifespans, Mowat said pets’ change in vision can serve as early indicators of how their owners’ eyesight may worsen as they age.

“We are exposed to things in the home that may be toxic to us, and it’s quite likely that those are also exposed to our pets because they share our home and lifestyle,” she said, using chemicals, soil contaminants and air pollution as examples. “It could well be that if we start to look at the pets, we’ll see a parallel trajectory. The environment of a person might also affect the dog as well.”

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Call it a win-win:

“We’re not just frivolously asking what dogs watch on TV. It also has this deeper meaning for me and will have deeper implications for what we do in our research. There’s a double benefit here.”

Some might think the idiot box exploration is for the birds. But Theo’s into it:

-ALEX

 

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