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Does Your Dog Watch Too Much TV?

We’ve all done it. We’ve turned on the TV and made it into the electronic babysitter. Everyone seemed happy but who knows? 

No, I’m not talking about my kids, I’m talking about television for my dog. And that has led me to the following question: So is watching too much TV going to rot your dog’s brain? 

We know television can hinder development in children—the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under 2 watch no TV since those first years are a critical time for brain development. Is it the same for dogs? And is that 2 human years, or do we divide that by 7 for dog years…oh, never mind.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of letting your pooch hang out on the couch in front of your 40” TV screen.

THE GOOD

There are some good reasons to let your dog watch the tube. In fact more than 60% of pet owners leave on their TV or radio for their dog or dogs when they leave the house to help them feel like people are still around. Vets actually recommend it if your dog suffers from separation anxiety since it’s been proven to help some dogs.

Plus, some dogs just plain dig it.

Dozens of people have shared stories about their pets loving to watch Animal Planet, cartoons (especially “SpongeBob” – who knew?!), favorite ads with animals in it – even bull riding.

I polled pet owners about how much TV they let their four-legged companions watch and I got some interesting responses.

One woman’s dog was so addicted to “Oprah” that every day at 4 p.m. he’d sit staring at the TV waiting for her to turn it on. On the weekends she would have to flip through the channels to prove to him there was no “Oprah” that day. (We can only hope he’s now discovered OWN.)

Television can actually be good for puppies, too, especially those ages 3 to 5 weeks old. Watching humans and other puppies, and hearing sounds like people talking, vacuums, traffic, and other household noises help them socialize. By eight weeks, TV-watching puppies were less fearful of strange situations.

But back to big question is TV ruining your pet’s brain? We don’t know. Despite numerous government studies, including a recent National Science Foundation test where researchers put shrimp on a treadmill scientists have never looked into it.

Here’s what we DO know, however. We do know is that pets don’t experience television like we do. They notice the movement and sound only – no storyline – and we don’t know if they connect can connect the two. (Have some extra cash lying around to fund that research?)

There HAS been a study to investigate whether showing TV to shelter dogs -- who spend all day in cage -- reduces their anxiety. It appeared to help.

THE BAD

So what’s the downside? Yup, you guess it. Your beloved dog will turn into a couch puptato.

Dogs need exercise just like you do. There are approximately 77.5 million dogs in the U.S. and 55% percent of them are overweight or obese. Now do that math (after all, your dog can’t). That means we have more than 34 million fat four-legged friends.

THE UGLY

Man’s best friend is actually a sausage dog.

Bottom line: as far as we know, TV doesn’t hinder a dog’s brain development. (To tell you the truth, I sometimes wonder whether my dog even HAS a brain.) But TV can hinder – ahem! -- muscle development.

So get her up off the couch and take her for a walk. Maybe, just maybe, you both will get addicted to a real-life nature show. The one outside your window.

Jennifer Quasha is a writer and most recently the co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Canine Companions" and "Chicken Soup of the Soul: My Cat's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Feline Family Members." Check out her website at www.jenniferquasha.com.