Why Dogs Just Can't Seem To Recognize Us On Our Phones And Tablets


Don't blame Rover if he's not very responsive to your video chats. Scientists say dogs have a hard time viewing (and making sense of what they see on) small screens.

"Dogs perceive the world largely by smell. This makes any virtual presence confusing for them, since the way they recognize us is missing," Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who has studied the ways in which dogs interact with technology, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Also, dogs just have a hard time looking at screens. In our research with dogs and video chat, it takes a lot to get them to pay attention to the screen."

No screen sense. Previous studies showed that dogs are able to recognize their owners in images. And when they're encouraged to look at faces on a computer screen, they tend to gaze longer at familiar faces (such as their owner's) than at strangers' faces. But dogs seem to have a particularly hard time making sense of moving images.

"When we watch frames on a screen, what we're really seeing is images that are flickering even though they appear to be continuously changing," Dr. Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., told The Huffington Post in an email. "A dog's 'flicker rate' is a bit different than ours."

While a simple video chat may appear to us to change continuously, dogs take in visual information at least 25 percent faster than humans do -- which could make that video look like a strange, jerky series of images to them.

One size doesn't fit all. The small screen of a smartphone or tablet may make it even harder for dogs to make sense of a video chat, compared to if they were to view moving images on a bigger screen. Video on a smaller device may be of a lower quality or resolution, for instance.

Could video chatting with your pooch via a television screen make a difference? Alas, experts say it is still likely to be an awkward experience.

"It's a very bizarre place for your face to pop up and the rest of you is not there," Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University and chief scientific officer for DogTV, a television network for dogs, told National Geographic. "Sometimes dogs seeing images on television of their owner will go to the back of the TV and see if there's anyone on the other side of the screen."

Just phone home. On the other hand, according to Golbeck, dogs are more responsive to our voices than our faces on a screen.

"We've seen this in our research and others have observed it as well," Golbeck said in the email. "You might be better off just calling the dog and using audio rather than Skype -- unless you want to see the dog, of course."

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