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I just adopted a new dog who has a strange trigger: she gets really upset and starts barking wildly when there is motion on the television, even backing out of the room in fear. I did a number of tests (spaced out across several hours to not stress her out too much) and found the following:

Things that don't bother her

  • Nothing is displayed, but TV is on (ruling out being bothered by the TV making a high pitched sound that humans can't hear)
  • A menu or other static screen
  • Static pictures of an environment
  • Me watching a show on an iPad with the volume up or playing a computer game with the volume up (ruling out that it's a noise issue)

Things that do bother her

  • A cartoon with motion
  • A live action scene with motion
  • Both of the above when the volume is muted

What I found especially interesting was a video of someone doing a close up of some electronics. She was fine when the shot just showed the electronics sitting on a table, but as soon as a hand came on screen, and especially if the presenter manipulated the electronics (like opening a panel to reveal additional buttons), she started growling. I tried to comfort her, an eventually she deliberately tried to ignore watching the TV, but still seemed a bit on edge.

As described in Do dogs see television and computers the way we do?, dogs don't see screens like we do. Still, the motion seems to bother her and I'd hate to give up TV watching entirely. My apartment is kind of small, and so far she's preferred to stay within sight of me. How can I desensitize her to the television so that I can watch it normally?

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I think your dog needs gradual exposure. It will help you if you're able to show things on your television from YouTube, so you have available a very large selection of free short videos to work with.

Then, the task becomes to search out short, very mild videos to put on your television. It should be one that has some movement, but very little. Perhaps scenery with some slight wind going on, or something like that. Play that for your dog, and if your dog does not seem bothered, then reward it with attention or treats. Very gradually, over the course of days or weeks, work up to very slightly more and more intense video, rewarding whenever the dog doesn't show a reaction.

If your dog gets too scared or upset, then stop and take a break. In general sessions shouldn't be too long, because you don't want your dog to get too stressed.

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Try making the video you are watching super-slow so that your dog barely even notices. Then speed up the video gradually over the next few days and see if she is any more used to it by then. If not, refrain from watching TV in the same room, or hold her while watching, give her treats and make her feel as though not being afraid of the television is a cause for treats and extra attention. Just guessing, i'm not an expert! Hope you find this useful.

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