by Aimee Levitt
In short, I am just the sort of sucker who would purchase DogTV.
DogTV, which became available via DirecTV, Roku, and Internet streaming in August for $9.99 per month, is the first television network intended for dogs. You might think that its programming would be exclusively reruns of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin and a few movies like Old Yeller in which the dog dies at the end, but you would be wrong. The programming on DogTV is intended to appeal to dogs and keep them company and stimulate their minds while their callous humans are away at work.
Naturally, since Abby favors me with her most heartbreaking gaze every morning as I leave for the office, I had to see what the fuss was about. To be honest, she's never been much of a TV watcher—the last thing I recall her watching with any interest was the 2011 World Series (she's a native Missourian), and she actually turned her tail toward the television the one time I tried to get her to watch the Westminster Dog Show. Also, as I learned from reading Alexandra Horowitz's excellent book Inside of a Dog, it's actually hard for her to watch TV since her mind processes images much more quickly than mine does. Instead of seeing moving images, she sees pictures separated by blackness. And the TV doesn't smell like anything besides a TV, so how can the pictures on it be real?
The masterminds of DogTV insist that digital technology minimizes the flicker problem and that dogs see high-definition TV the same way humans do. They can't do anything about the smell, but maybe Smell-O-Vision will someday be revived.
At first, Abby and I tried to watch DogTV on my iPhone. It was a dismal failure. The picture was small and the sound was tinny, but most of all, she didn't understand that she was now expected to look at what she normally considers her main rival for my attention. So we switched to Roku and the big TV screen.
DogTV has three main components: relaxation, stimulation, and exposure. The relaxation segments feature films of sunrises or deep space (RIP Laika) or horses, goats, and dogs frolicking in bucolic settings while soothing music plays. Stimulation shows children brandishing squeaky toys and dots bopping around the screen, sort of like when you shoot a laser pointer around the room. And exposure, by far the most annoying (to me, anyway), is a dog's-eye view of children at play and sharing banal confidences, like their middle names. It is, apparently, supposed to accustom dogs to life with the little darlings.
Watching DogTV is soothing, in a boring sort of way, sort of like television intended for very small children. And, in fact, when I described DogTV to the mother of one of Abby's dearest friends, a two-and-a-half-year-old named Bea, she agreed it was just the sort of thing Bea would enjoy. Unfortunately, Abby and Bea now live too far apart to be able to watch together.
In an introductory video, an extremely uncomfortable-looking Dr. Nicholas Dodman advises humans and dogs to watch DogTV together at first until the dogs get used to it, and warns humans that dogs don't turn into little couch potatoes the way we do. The DogTV website suggested playtime before TV time to calm the dog down; accordingly, we spent part of the afternoon at the dog park. Nonetheless, it took less than a minute after we sat down before Abby began hunting for one of her toys so we could play tug. When I told her to settle down and watch, she curled up and went to sleep.
The next day, I left DogTV on when I left for work, but I unfortunately don't have a camera I could use to spy and the TV shut itself off before I got home.
Over several days of watching, I saw her respond only a few times and only to sounds. She seemed intrigued by a segment featuring a little girl whining, "Come play with me, doggy," over and over while honking a squeaky toy. But the little girl lost her when she started saying, "Good boy."
"Good girl" happens to be one of Abby's favorite phrases. But "good boy" is meaningless to her.
And, unfortunately, that's all you hear on DogTV because it is unrelievedly sexist and refers to all dogs, even those who are obviously female (and with dogs, it's not hard to tell), as "good boy." A bitch can't get a break.
Aside from some mild interest in blobs of light moving around the screen accompanied by "bonging" noises, Abby refused to watch DogTV. She wandered off into other rooms. She got violent with her toys, particularly the remains of a stuffed cow, which she clamped between her jaws and whipped around with damaging speed. When the soundtrack shifted from music to the laughter of children, she sat on the floor in front of me and gazed up pleadingly. "Please," I could almost hear her beg, "if you love me as much as you say you do, turn that thing off."