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Why does my dog bark at animals on TV?

Some dogs only engage with the TV when they see other animals

Lately, I have become very interested in the reasons some dogs become agitated when animals appear on the TV screen. However, it is a complex subject and requires careful thought. After all, the barking can be difficult when you are having a quiet night in watching a TV programme that happens to include animals. And it doesn’t end there. These on screen creatures can be real or even well drawn cartoons. To further confuse the issue, some regular TV programmes feature dogs and cats in their opening sequences. In these instances, our dog Poppy can even interpret the music knowing precisely when these creatures are going to appear. In other words, the music becomes the trigger for these actions.

So why do they do it?

Studies have shown that dogs process on screen images faster than humans. Even so they are still intelligent enough to recognise the faces of other canines. Also, dogs have super sensitive hearing and are likely to react to the sounds as well as the visual aspect. When your dog catches sight of animals on TV there is an element of confusion and excitement. Your dog may look at the back of your TV set wondering where these animals actually come from. Perhaps they see the screen as a window and want to warn you of any approaching threat.

How can it be prevented?

To correct this rather erratic behaviour there are a number of distraction techniques available to you. You could distract your dog with a game or with toys. It may also help to give your dog a long walk prior to watching the TV. This calms your dog making energetic barking much less likely. Finally, as a last resort you could wear earphones effectively removing the sound of any on screen animals. Poppy is a Lhasa Apso and is instinctively suspicious of strangers. This trait makes the Lhasa an ideal choice for a watch dog. I have considered some of these distraction techniques to correct the barking response but also don’t want her to ignore any potential threat because her vigilance has been trained out of her.

Perceiving a threat

There is a sequence to Poppy’s behaviour. Her first response is to bark enthusiastically and jump up at the screen. Then she protects her toys or any items of food she is eating at the time. Once her possessions are secure she continues to bark out her warnings until she sees that the danger is over. Poppy perceives some sort of threat. I’ve never seen her look behind the TV set for any signs of unfamiliar creatures. Nonetheless, she does sometimes run to the patio door and look out into the garden. It seems that she believes the TV screen to be a window and the animals she sees must be nearby.  This response is solely connected to animals on the telly and not people. Poppy does not react to humans in any way and is content to sit quietly by my side most of the time.

So what’s it all about?

When Poppy is out and about, she is more than happy to greet other dogs and their owners without barking at them or misbehaving in any way. All things considered, she is a very good natured and well behaved Lhasa apso who can be trusted to obey commands. It seems that dogs can recognise animals on TV but they don’t fully understand why they are there.  I would welcome the opinions of other dog owners who have experienced and possibly overcome the problems associated with this subject. We would really love to hear from you.

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