Vets are warning that many people are bringing pet dogs along to their surgeries presenting a problem of fixed, staring eyes. They say the problem is being caused by Britain's change from analogue to digital television.
They say the flicker rate dogs used to see when watching analogue broadcasts was too slow to trick dogs into believing they were watching a continuous moving picture. The flicker rate also made watching television to be a rather unpleasant experience for them. With digital broadcasts the problem of flicker is eliminated. Dogs have suddenly discovered why people have been spending so many hours staring at the screens every day instead of sitting on the floor with them gnawing juicy bones. As a result our dogs are now watching too much television and are developing what vets are calling 'TV eyes'.
"Dog owners should preferably not allow their dogs into rooms where s a television is switched on" advises veterinary surgeon Alan Barker. "If they do, then they should not allow their dogs to wtach television for more than one hour in any one day in order to prevent the fixed TV eyes problem from developing."
The good news is that the problem does return to normal after the dog has been denied watching digital television for a few weeks, but vets warn that the withdrawal symptoms for the animal can be very unpleasant.
"We generally advise owners to leave the dog with us during that period" explains Mr Barker, "then we'll telephone them to come and collect their pet when the dog has come through the terrible period of sweating and shaking."
Sadly too many dog owners only come to realise a problem has developed when they notice the fixed eyes. By then the dog no longer shows any interest in the prospect of joining the owner for a walk to the park, but instead reacts to being shown the lead about to be attached to it's collar not by excitedly wagging it's tail but by growling threateningly, and angrily snapping at the hand holding the lead.
Mr Barker advises against buying any of the dog treadmills now being sold in pet shops. Though he admits they do encourage the dogs to get some exercise while they are watching the television programs he points out that they do not cure the problem of the fixed eyes.
"It can be difficult to get larger dogs away from the televisions to take them for walks" he warns. "In fact to the mind of the dog the purpose of those walks to the park is not so that they will get some exercise, but so that the person with them will. The dog thinks they are being taken along to the park just to show the person how to get there, and to keep them company. They probably think it's about time they were trusted to find their own way to the park and back."
Many more advertisements for dog food and toys are appearing on the screens as advertisers look to take advantage of the new audience. Dog products could even outdo advertisements for children's toys this Christmas. Expected to be the number one best seller this year is a remote control aimed at the new doggy audience. It changes channels upwards simply with each bark from the dog, then changes back downwards again when the dog growls instead of barks.
But Mr Barker also warns owners to think very carefully before buying their dogs the remote controls.
"It can be hard enough to get remote controls back from children. Getting them back from dogs will be much harder, and much more dangerous" he says. "Dogs not only know how to hide bones where no one can find them, they also have sharper teeth."
Most dogs seem to like the same kind of programs as women do. They like the soaps, the cookery programs, and the romantic movies. Unfortunately for men they soon come to dislike any program involving balls. At first they try to grab hold of the balls they can see on the screens and either knock the television over or get sore noses by banging them against the glass, but when they realise they can't get the balls they then quickly lose interest in those programs and will growl at the person with the remote control until the channel is changed to show a program more to there liking - like a romantic movie.
"Any man thinking of buying one of the doggy remote controls for their pet this Christmas should not do so if they like football" warns the vet. "If they do then they must be barking mad!"