Dogs appear to enjoy watching TV. They like it because their humans like it.
“Dogs love to watch things,” dog behaviorist Cesar Millan says. “That’s how they learn. When the dog went inside with the human, the window became his first TV. Humans now spend lot of time getting information and entertainment from TV… That’s how the dog finds out that that is the way of entertainment.”
Millan, dubbed the “Dog Whisperer” by his first National Geographic TV show, curated a list of series and movies to watch with man’s best friend this National Dog Day, August 26. It includes movies like Jurassic World, sports like the X Games, and animal shows like Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue.
Your dog’s best TV guide, you.
Our furry comrades learned to watch—and even enjoy—TV from watching us and our reactions to the screen. If your pet sees you jump for joy while watching a baseball game or chuckle at a TV sitcom, they’ll channel that energy and feel excited or relaxed when watching those kinds of programs, too.
“Each household has its own culture and the dog becomes part of that,” Millan says. “You have households that watch movies a lot and the dog becomes, you know, a Jumanji lover,” he said, noting that it’s one of his personal favorites.
In the same vein, if a heated debate on CNN has you feeling stressed, that anxiety could rub off on your pet. “The dog is going to vibe from you,” says Millan.
When picking a show for your dog—especially if you’re leaving the house–think about what makes you happy or relaxed. Odds are, your dog will enjoy it, too.
Balls, balls, balls
Millan has some go-to genres that engage the eyes and ears of man’s best friend:
- Dogs: Dogs love watching other dogs. TVs are so clear these days that dogs can’t rationalize the difference between what is happening on screen and in the real world, Millan says. A four-legged, floppy-eared animal with characteristics just like theirs will pique your dog’s interest, and become a real-life playmate. (Dogs can recognize humans on screen too, but they’re more like to relate to you, as a pet parent, through hearing your voice on, say, a video call, Millan says.)
- Nature: The soothing sounds of David Attenborough, birds chirping, water rushing, and awe-inspiring visuals make many outdoor shows perfect programming for your pet, especially after a nice long walk outside.
- Music: Music can calm dogs or elicit other emotions like excitement or sadness, much like it does in humans. Your dog will likely draw from the energy of soothing or relaxing music when it’s playing on the TV.
- Sports: Don’t be surprised if your dog’s attention hones in on the tiny ball on screen during a tennis match, or bouncing around during a basketball game. ”Anything with a ball they’re going to enjoy,” Millan says. “It’s amazing the ability they have to focus on that little thing.”
- Action: Action-packed movies and TV shows can be good for your dog, too. Watching them in a safe space with their pet parent can desensitize dogs to the loud sounds or sudden movements on screen when they encounter similar actions in real life, Millan says. Just be gentle with the volume—dogs have a great hearing.
- Cartoons: Animated TV shows and movies, particularly those made for kids, tend to use high-pitched, comforting tones, commonly known as baby talk. Many pet parents speak to their dogs in the same tone of voice, making watching cartoons feel quite natural or even comforting.
TV is good company, but it’s not a dog sitter
Many pet owners leave the radio or TV on to keep their doggos company when they’re out of the house. That’s completely fine, Millan says, in moderation.
Pet parents should think of using TV time with their dogs in the same way they would with human children, as a reward for completing their homework or doing chores, for example. In a dog’s case, it could be a relaxing treat after coming back from a nice long walk. Millan recommends getting in a good hour of continuous physical activity in before sitting your pet down in front of the TV.
That could also help prevent your dog from getting too excited by the action on screen. Remember, dogs can’t distinguish between onscreen action and the real world. Millan says he has filmed episodes of his reality-TV shows, where he helps rehabilitate dogs, in which he’s had to stop dogs from attacking the TV. “You learn what makes the dog feel excited—but not too much,” says Millan.
So, if your doggo, like a goofy-eared pit bull I know, is transfixed by gophers, it’s probably best not to leave Caddyshack on the tube when you’re out of the house. But an episode of Planet Earth or Sesame Street could be just the thing.