DogTV: The Cinema of the Unsettling

By Michael DePietro

Feature image by Lettuce attribution 2.0 generic (CC by 2.0)

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y — It’s no secret that pets can see and react to the images displayed on television. A quick YouTube search will yield millions of videos demonstrating this phenomena— cats pouncing to catch on-screen birds, dogs chasing after line drives during baseball games, etc. It’s nauseatingly adorable. I myself am even in possession of a husky, Garfield-esque tabby cat who’s been known to excitedly heave himself upright in a chair like Gilbert Grape’s mom whenever “Law & Order” comes on.

In the past, there’s been very little in the way of entertainment specifically geared for cats and dogs. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately depending on your outlook of the world, this no longer seems to be the case. There now exists a vast market of television, movies and music created for the sole enjoyment of our furriest of furry friends.

The most popular of these products is “DogTV.” Launched in 2012, this (somehow) real television network features content exclusively designed for dogs. For just $9.99 a month, one can add the channel to their current cable or satellite package, or simply stream it over the internet. For those who are still a bit skeptical, the company even offers a 14 day “risk-free” trial offer.

I recently became aware of “DogTV” (and pet entertainment as a whole) by way of a rather fortuitous channel recommendation on Amazon Prime. As I recall, my initial reaction was of disbelief. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” I chuckled while furiously typing in my wife’s credit card information.

I should stress up front that I do not in fact, own a dog. However, I’ve been alive long enough to know that when the universe fumbles up something as ridiculous as T.V for dogs, you grab that ball and run with it … so long as you remember to unsubscribe before the monthly payments kick in.

The company’s website boasts that their programming was developed “through years of research with some of the world’s top pet experts” and that the content was “created to meet specific attributes of a dog’s [senses].” While I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, I gleefully envisioned a never ending string of doggie-driven crime dramas and reality shows. I could picture all the cute titles—”Barking Bad,” “Vanderpup Drools,” “Actual Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

Evidently, what this actually means is that dogs enjoy watching David Lynch-level surrealist nightmare fuel.

While a lot of this content is precisely what you might expect — videos of dogs going for a walk, playing fetch, or just being pet/massaged— the rest of the content, the real bread and butter of the channel, is where it gets weird. There simply isn’t enough time to go over all of the insanity that I encountered during my time with “DogTV,” but I’ll try to offer a small taste.

Upon clicking ‘play’, the first thing I saw was two, shoeless California hipsters playing cornhole while stock music played in the background. Nearby, a third hipster lay in a lawn chair, texting on his phone. After a few minutes, a dog-barking sound effect could be heard followed by a creepy child’s voice saying “sit” and “good dog.” I blinked hard. There were no dogs or children visible in the scene. The video ended and the “DogTV” logo came up onscreen.

I later learned these audio clips just occur randomly sometimes, regardless of what’s happening on-screen. Stock footage of a Japanese street being played at 4x speed in reverse? “Good dog!” Drone footage of a dog-less Italian landscape? “Come here boy!”

A while later, a young boy and a girl are shown sitting in some grass, rolling a ball back and forth. For about five minutes they both look nervously behind the camera at a cameraman we never see for some sort of direction that never comes.

Before my brain (and presumably the brain of the poor dogs who’ve been forced to watch this) can process what was happening, it cuts to five minutes of a lady vacuuming her floor. Evidently, this is supposed to help the dog get used to the sound. This seems like a fine idea in theory but I have to wonder if this is the best way to handle this situation. If I wanted to cure my wife’s fear of clowns, I’m not sure that locking her alone in a room and having the TV whisper at her for four hours before suddenly switching to scenes from “IT” is the way to go. But I’m also the kind of person who signs up for “DogTV” without owning a dog, so what would I know.

Later, it was time for doggy nap-time. A golden retriever, clearly fighting sleep, is inexplicably green screened onto a bed of clouds. After a few minutes, he’s “transported” to a babbling creek in the middle of the woods. Three minutes later he disappears into thin air while a little boy whispers “wow” and the video ends.

I am no stranger to surrealist cinema. During High School I used to put “Eraserhead” on to fall asleep. With that in mind, you can take my word for it that this was somehow among the more unsettling things I’ve ever seen.

The company’s various explanation videos make it quite clear that the majority of “DogTV”‘s content is made with dogs in mind and would likely seem quite strange to us humans. Aside from a smackling of programs such as “Dogstar”— a human hosted, canine based alternative to internet clip shows like “The Soup” and “Tosh.0″— they couldn’t be more right.

Over the course of my 14 day free trial, I can’t be completely certain how much “DogTV” I watched. At a certain point, time loses all meaning. Your mind and body disconnect. Eventually you experience yourself floating weightlessly through a swirling void of darkness and confusion while an invisible child whispers to you that you’re a good boy. Its almost serene until you wake up and your wife’s mad at you for not cancelling the free trial.

If you’re looking for something to keep your dog at ease while you’re out of the house, “DogTV” is … probably fine. However, as the company’s own website explains, the primary benefit of leaving the television on for your dog is that it blocks out ambient noise from the outside. So really anything could probably work just as well. It just depends on how much psychological damage you want to inflict on your dog.

However, if you have recently plowed through David Lynch’s entire back catalog and are in need of 24/7 unsettling avante-garde surrealism — then “DogTV” is the channel for you.

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