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Published June 01 2010

Does your dog get high-def?

A dog owner says his golden retriever is more interested in high-definition television than a standard set.

Sounds like the opening to a bad joke at a veterinarians convention. But that’s the line from Riley’s owner, who happens to be Forum News Director Steve Wagner.

It may sound far-fetched; some might say it’s barking up the wrong tree, but with televisions coming in larger sizes and with greater visual definition, it’s not nutty to assume dogs might also be attracted to the benefits of high-definition programming.

Especially when you see it with your own eyes.

While I don’t know how Riley responded to standard TV, the hyper-social dog does seem interested in watching his fellow canines on the HD plasma screen in his master’s living room.

When Riley saw pups pop up on Animal Planet, he went up to the screen and began whining. He growled at an aggressive-acting pooch. And Wagner says Riley is also drawn to images of water, which can prompt the dog to rush to the television and whine like he does when he wants to play.

Bill Kiebke, owner of Bill’s Video and TV Service in Fargo, hasn’t heard similar stories from his customers.

“That’s a new one for me,” he says.

But Jon Kungel, owner of the Fargo-based Custom Cinema & Sound, says he’s read about this kind of thing.

“I guess I would think it’s got something to do with the amount of information that’s coming across, whether it’s more lines of resolution or there’s more color or the whites are whiter, the blacks are blacker type of thing,” he says.

Not that doggy interest in a standard boob tube is unheard of.

Betty Selders, owner, based in West Fargo, had a Westie breed that was particularly drawn to a Wells Fargo commercial.

“He’d go running because he loved to watch” the stagecoach, she said.

And while Sally Harmon, who owns Fargo Boarding and Grooming Service with her husband, David, says she can’t say she’s heard anyone saying, “My dog likes my new TV,” a Lab they had was hooked on the movie “Homeward Bound.”

The dog would sit next to her then-second-grade son, Michael. They were “buddies,” Harmon said, and they watched that movie “over and over again.”

As for HDTV specifically, Dr. Laurie Bauer, a doctor of veterinary medicine at Casselton Veterinary Service, didn’t think it was out of the realm of possibility that a dog would respond more to a high-definition set.

She says that “with the increased pixels, with it being such a sharper image, it might be easier for the dog to focus.”

Harmon offers an alternative possibility, pointing out that dogs are quite empathic and can sense the environment around them. She says that if the owner is acting differently around the HD set, the dog could be picking up on that.

Either way, it’s not just for the dogs.

Tom Colville, director of the NDSU veterinary technology program, says his cat takes more interest in his high-definition set than he did when he had an non-HD setup.

“He’ll just be walking through the room, and all of a sudden, he’ll just glance up, and it’s … like he’s hypnotized by what’s going on for several minutes,” Colville says, “and then it’s kind of like, ‘OK, you’re not doing anything for me,’ ” and he walks off.

But Colville believes it’s more likely that increased pet interest in HD TVs is tied to increased screen size rather than increased resolution.

Colville says we humans have a cluster of visual receptors in the backs of our eyes called the macula that provides us with a very detailed section in the center of our visual field. Since dogs and cats don’t have that photosensitive cluster, “everything to them looks like things outside of our sharp vision field,” he says.

“Because of that lack of sharp vision, that’s what makes me think that the HD part of it’s probably not as important as the fact that it’s a big image that’s moving,” he says.

Perhaps the grand scale of the image is a factor. Wagner says Riley occasionally recognized things when he had a 70-inch non-HD projection TV. But he also says there is a pronounced increase in the dog’s responsiveness to television images with the HD rig.

For his part, Riley couldn’t confirm any theory as he had nothing to say on the matter, save a bark or two and some whimpering.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734