“I’m sitting here watching dogs running around in the snow,” admitted Beke Lubeach during a phone conversation last Wednesday. “Next, there’s a show about dogs getting groomed someplace in Thailand.”
Lubeach was screening content for DOGTV, the canine television network where she works as general manager. “I tell people I work at a television network for dogs and they laugh at me. They look at me like I have two heads.”
The network was born of guilt. In a previous career, DOGTV’s chief content officer found himself frequently working away from home. “He felt guilty leaving his pets behind,” Lubeach said. “At the time, he had a dog and a cat, and he thought the cat was fine, but it must be so boring for the dog, being left alone. He was asking himself, ‘What can I do for my pet?’”
The answer, Lubeach said, was DOGTV. Its programming comes in three meaty flavors: Relaxation, Stimulation, and Exposure. “Dogs don’t follow a storyline,” Lubeach explained. “Our Relaxation programs have slow movement and quiet sounds that puts dogs in a Zen state. Stimulation is upbeat, with dogs running or playing with kids.”
Exposure programs offer Fluffy a chance to see new things: going to the groomer, why the vacuum cleaner makes scary sounds, who the mailman is and why it’s not nice to bite him. One especially popular segment involves taking a walk against traffic. “Dogs want to be prepared for a busy road,” Lubeach believed.
The network’s programming is based on research studies about what Rover might like to see on TV, what sound frequencies might relax or engage him. “The thought was, ‘How do we put together something that will enrich these dogs’ lives?’” Lubeach recalled.
The solutions came from, among others, Nicholas Dodman, a professor of animal behavioral science at Tufts University and dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog.
“They helped us see that we needed to make shows from the dog’s perspective,” Lubeach said. “You might look at one of our shows and think it was shot at a weird angle, or the colors are strange. Dogs don’t see in black and white. They see in blues and yellows and grays. So we’ve enhanced the reds and greens to give our shows more dimension for our viewers.”
Man’s best friend cares about auditory content, too. “To my dismay, our research showed that dogs don’t like country music,” Lubeach huffed. “They prefer classical. We went with sound frequencies that catch their attention, single instruments and like that.”
Lubeach joined the DOGTV pack in 2011, just as the network was test-marketing shows about chasing sticks and barking. She and her colleagues showed the pup-themed shows to dogs in New York and Los Angeles. “We alternated our shows with CNN, Animal Planet, and no TV at all,” she remembered, “and we monitored the dogs with cameras. They responded best to DOGTV.”
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Dogs will be fetching the remote for a new show come late June. Dog Star is a user-generated clips program featuring videos of viewers’ hounds being funny, Lubeach said, or athletic or just really smart. Other new content will be aimed at both Fido and her mom and dad. “We just filmed a whole round of new shows in 13 different countries,” Lubeach promised, “and we’ll have BuzzFeed-style stuff for parents.”
Meantime, DOGTV has seen a spike in ratings since pet owners began sheltering at home. “People are using our programs as a way to distract their dogs,” Lubeach said. “They’re working from home, they’re on a Zoom call, the dog jumps on their lap, and there goes the call. Watching TV gets the little guys out of your hair.”
There was a joke in there somewhere. “I laugh a lot about my work,” she said. “I have to. I sell TV to dogs.”
Lubeach liked the certainty of her work, she said, as she switched to a program about a cocker spaniel being given a bubble bath. “The one thing you can really rely on,” she remarked, “is that dogs are never going to complain about reruns.”