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Home Alone | DogTV is just the answer, for pets that is

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DogTV for home alone pets

Two months after its San Diego debut, canine cable channel DogTV is keeping tails wagging at a local animal shelter, is available on the Internet and is headed for national distribution, an executive for the enterprise said on Tuesday.

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 colors, 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 nationally in the next several months, Neumann said.

It will cost about $4.99 a month, Neumann said. If you figure more than 46 million U.S. households have dogs (according to the American Pet Products Association) and 97 percent of U.S. 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 Behavior Clinic in Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

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 recognize other dogs on TV, they may even respond differently to their own breed.

They definitely recognize 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 colors 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.

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.

Billed as the first channel of its kind, DogTV made its premiere on February 13 as a free, around-the-clock offering carried by Cox Cable and Time Warner's on-demand services in San Diego, reaching some 483,000 homes in California's second-largest city.

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."

HOPING TO GO NATIONWIDE

Lubeach said DogTV hopes to have a national distribution deal in place in the next couple of months, at which point the channel would charge subscribers about $5 a month.

In the meantime, DogTV has become a big hit at the Humane Society animal shelter in suburban Escondido, which began airing the channel on several televisions mounted throughout the facility last month.

The shelter "has seen a marked improvement in all the dogs who have been exposed to DogTV," said Sally Costello, executive director of the Escondido Humane Society, which cares for more than 5,000 animals a year and currently houses 115 dogs.

In a press release last week, she said that "higher-energy dogs, which were once showing signs of anxiety, are now exhibiting positive development and calmer behavior, including vocalizing less and resting more."

Programming, developed by a team of Israeli television entrepreneurs, was based on hundreds of hours of research into what TV-watching dogs like to see and hear and how content for pooches should appear. Researchers found that dogs favored such things as harp music and the cartoon series "SpongeBob SquarePants."

While DogTV is a cable television first, the concept of making couch potatoes out of canines is not new.

More than 60 percent of U.S. dog owners already heed the national Humane Society's recommendation to keep a radio or television on in the house when their pets are left alone so the animals hear comforting voices rather than just silence, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a member of DogTV's scientific advisory board and a professor of veterinary medicine and behavior at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

 


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