Dog Television and Apps
Sebastien Thibault

As more and more media target the doggie demo, will even Fido start texting?

That’s the paranoia that grips me each week as I survey the media landscape. Though obsessive about monitoring reviews and press releases and staying alert to the epiphanies of social media, I still worry that I will overlook the next seminal YouTube hit or a mumblecore sleeper from the film geeks.

And it’s no longer just about shortchanging myself — I’m also concerned about my pet. A friend last week was appalled that I was not yet subscribing to DogTV, the 24-hour pay service that was daily pacifying his pooches. Didn’t I understand the value of canine kitsch?

My vet added to my guilt by lecturing me about the burgeoning world of pet apps. Trainers were having great success with iPad lessons for critters, improving their motor skills and inculcating positive social behavior. He urged me to check out shows like “The Secret Life of Dogs” on NatGeo Wild for further edification.

That’s when it hit me: Not only was I in danger of existing in a cultural void, but I was perhaps inflicting that condition on Minnie, my 2-year-old Cavalier.

I grew up a dogless person and never felt deprived of canine companionship. Then one day my wife showed up with a surprise “gift,” announcing it was time we joined the great Dog Nation. After all, some 45 million households now include at least one dog, a 33% jump in just a decade.

Having done some homework, I feel I’ve now become a reasonably responsible dog owner, though the word “owner” itself has become obsolete. Dog people now refer to themselves as “pet guardians” or “dog companions” and the pooches themselves are “fur babies,” which brings us back to entertainment. According to an expert on “The Secret Life of Dogs,” it’s time to ask ourselves, “Do we really know how our faithful companions see the world and what they really think of us?”

Well I’m willing to ask, and there are enough apps around to keep me informed. One called Whistle will tell me whether my dog has been sleeping all day or exercising (a new generation of dog treadmills will measure the exercise level). Apps like Passport inform owners how frequently pets are using their doggie doors and to what effect (does this fall under the category of too much information?)

App advocates argue that iPad training sessions provide valuable entertainment for pets stranded at home. At least a dozen pet-specific apps are now available in the iTunes store, aimed not only at dogs but cats (there’s also one for penguins).

One app called Cat Fishing has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. In another, You vs. Cat, humans flick a ball across the screen while cats deflect them from the other side.

I don’t really think Minnie is up for the app world, but, having stared for a few minutes at the DogTV pilot, I think I’m ready to sign up. Since dogs have up to 300 million scent glands in their noses, compared with my pathetic 5 million, I feel assured that Minnie can sniff out a good show if she needs to. Further, the programmers at DogTV have made some shrewd sensory adjustments for their prime demo. Dogs are partially color blind (orange looks the same as green) so I am told the color images have been attuned to these shortcomings; blue and yellow fire hydrants look far more inviting.

But I still have a question: Don’t critters like Minnie still prefer real encounters to those on screen? Just as we now see people texting each other while seated at the same restaurant table, will we be inflicting similarly distanced behavior on our pets? Will they, too, become prisoners of the nonsocial media?

OK, I’m going to pay for DogTV, but there’s no way I’m buying my dog a Twitter-primed iPhone.

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