My Standard Poodle Raja has no interest in watching TV. Dogs could be cavorting and barking across the screen, and he could care less. Even closeups of dog faces produce no results. If I try to call his attention to something that I think might interest him, he will sleepily open an eye out of politeness and then promptly go back to sleep on the couch in front of the tube.
I have always assumed that this is because dogs see TV screens differently from us. The typical screen flickers at 50-60 cycles per second (Hertz for the technically-minded), which is adequate for our eye to fuse it into a solid picture (again, for the technically-minded, the flicker-fusion-frequency). Dogs, on the other hand, fuse flickers into solid pictures at around 70-80 cycles per second, far above the flicker of the TV screen. Instead of a solid picture, they must see a whole bunch of flickers.
However, a recent study has found that puppies that are 3 to 5 weeks old can see a TV screen and respond to the objects that they are seeing on the TV (Pluijmakers et al. 2010. Exposure to video images between 3 to 5 weeks of age decreases neophobia in domestic dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126: 51-58). The study played back both sounds and sights of people, dogs, traffic, and objects such as vacuum cleaners, in an 8 minute video clip that was played to the puppies each day for 2 weeks from the time the puppies were 3 weeks old until they were 5 weeks old.
The study found that puppies who were exposed to different images and objects on the TV screen at that early age were much less fearful of strange situations by the time they were 8 weeks old. This is a critical time for puppies, when they are learning about the world around them, and what they learn during this time stays with them for the rest of their lives.
And fearfulness can affect a dog's lifespan. Another recent study found that fearful dogs had a significantly shorter lifespan than more confident dogs, probably as a result of constant stress (Dreschel, N. A. 2010. The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 125: 157-162).
So why is my Raja so uninterested in watching the TV, if 3 week-old puppies can see what is happening on the screen? The short answer is, I don't know. But a longer answer might be that he probably was never exposed to the TV as a puppy, and never got used to watching. He came to us as an adult rescue dog, and I have no idea what his early background was.
Chances are, by the time he saw a TV screen, it was already too late for him to make any sense out of it.
Sometimes, I think he has a point.