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Cable TV 'literally gone to the dogs'

18 April 2012, 10:21

Los Angeles - Filmmakers are calling DogTV a new breed of television - an eight-hour block of on-demand cable TV programming designed to keep your dog relaxed, stimulated and entertained while you are at work.

To get the right footage, cameramen got on their knees and shot low and long. "I shot from the point of view of the dog," said Gilad Neumann, chief executive officer of DogTV.

In production, they had to mute colours, alter sound and add music specially written for dogs.

There will be no commercials, no ratings and no reruns, although some might argue that watching a slug crawl is hardly exciting new programming.

One million subscribers with two cable companies have access to DogTV in San Diego. It is doing so well that parent company PTV Media plans to offer it across America in the next several months, Neumann said.

It will cost about $4.99 a month, Neumann said. If you figure more than 46 million US households have dogs (according to the American Pet Products Association) and 97% of US homes have televisions, the future looks promising.

Bleu, a year-old French bulldog, has been watching for a month and snorts and grunts his approval, owner Mary Catania of San Diego said. He used to perk up when "Family Guy" came on, Catania said, but he seems more intrigued by DogTV.

"I always feel guilty leaving him alone all day when I'm at work," Catania said. "He's like my kid. I don't have any children so I really treat him like my child. Anything that makes him happy makes me happy."

For years, pet owners have been leaving a television or radio on when they go out so their pets have company, said Dr Nick Dodman, director of the Animal Behaviour Clinic in Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Dog sleeping patterns

But Dodman said that according to research on the canine brain, with analog television, dogs could only see a flickering screen. New technologies like digital TV, high-definition cameras, and enhanced production have changed the way dogs perceive the images, while big screens allow them to see from anywhere in a room, Neumann said.

Do dogs really understand what they're watching? Dodman said research is ongoing, but it appears that dogs not only recognise other dogs on TV, they may even respond differently to their own breed.

They definitely recognise sounds, though, whether it's barking or sirens, and audio on DogTV has been tailored accordingly. Because high frequency sounds can be very irritating to dogs, they've been removed. And music is written and tailored for their hearing, though it sounds like elevator music to humans.

What you won't find on DogTV are the sounds that blare on regular TV: no gunshots, no explosions, no heavy metal music, Neumann said.

Dogs can see blue and yellow, but not red or green, Neumann said, so colours are altered for DogTV too.

Based on dog sleeping pattern studies, programmers alternate footage and soundtracks designed for stimulation, relaxation and exposure throughout the eight hours.

Exposure is designed to acquaint dogs with things they will see each day. "There are studies that show when young puppies are exposed to video images of other dogs, it acts as a form of socialization," Dodman said. Sights and sounds during this part of the programming expose the animals to things like traffic, babies, other pets and doorbells.

Relaxation segments feature sleeping dogs and nature scenes - like the slugs - accompanied by dog lullabies.

A lot of feedback

Stimulation includes dogs running, playing and surfing, animation and a lot of panting. The idea behind this part of DogTV is to get a dog moving, even if it is home alone.

Shows are "refreshed" daily for variety.

There has been a lot of feedback from viewers saying their cats like the show as well as their dogs, Neumann said. CatTV may be added later, but DogTV is strictly for the dogs, he said.

The Escondido Humane Society, on the outskirts of San Diego County, isn't wired for cable yet, but DogTV offered to give them relaxation-only test videos.

"We handle 5 000 animals a year. We get high-energy, big dogs that need to calm down. When we plugged it in, we saw almost immediate results," said development director Jean Loo-Russo.

If an extremely active dog is confined for long periods of time, a chemical imbalance can occur and it can go kennel crazy, Loo-Russo said.

You can prevent that with DogTV and 20-minute walks twice a day, she said.

Every dog at the shelter can't see a TV, but they are all within hearing distance and that's helping too, Loo-Russo said.

Pets may one day be able to sniff DogTV, Dodman said. "The technology is here to add smell. There are boxes you can buy that have 60 different wells that you can fill with scents. Like fireworks, you can cue them with what's on television."

Too bad they can't control the remote.



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