* SpongeBob SquarePants, other dogs among canine favorites
* Observer says DogTV can calm down dogs
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, April 17 (Reuters) - Two months after its San Diego debut, canine cable channel DogTV is keeping tails wagging at a local animal shelter, is available on the Internet and is headed for national distribution, an executive for the enterprise said on Tuesday.
The advertising-free programming is aimed at stay-at-home pooches whose work-a-day masters fret about the separation anxiety their pets suffer, and the trouble they get into, when left unattended for long stretches of time.
Billed as the first channel of its kind, DogTV made its premiere on Feb. 13 as a free, around-the-clock offering carried by Cox Cable and Time Warner's on-demand services in San Diego, reaching some 483,000 homes in California's second-largest city.
The content is specifically tailored for four-legged audiences, with even the sound, colors and camera angles adjusted to make them more appealing to canines.
The dogs' favorite TV stars, not surprisingly, turn out to be other dogs.
"They love watching other dogs being active on the screen, and other animals," said Beke Lubeach, head of marketing for DogTV, adding that birds, monkeys and zebras have proven popular as well.
The Nielsen television ratings service does not measure viewership on the channel and Lubeach declined to disclose details of the company's own marketing research. But she said that 80 percent of its viewers - or at least the humans who turn on the channel for their pets - are repeat visitors.
Last week, the channel began offering online streaming from its website, dogtv.com, for $9.99 a month. On-demand viewing over Cox and Time Warner cable systems in San Diego remains free for the duration of test-marketing, which is expected to run another two months at least, she said.
Lubeach said DogTV hopes to have a national distribution deal in place in the next couple of months, at which point the channel would charge subscribers about $5 a month.
In the meantime, DogTV has become a big hit at the Humane Society animal shelter in suburban Escondido, which began airing the channel on several televisions mounted throughout the facility last month.
The shelter "has seen a marked improvement in all the dogs who have been exposed to DogTV," said Sally Costello, executive director of the Escondido Humane Society, which cares for more than 5,000 animals a year and currently houses 115 dogs.
In a press release last week, she said that "higher-energy dogs, which were once showing signs of anxiety, are now exhibiting positive development and calmer behavior, including vocalizing less and resting more."
Programming, developed by a team of Israeli television entrepreneurs, was based on hundreds of hours of research into what TV-watching dogs like to see and hear and how content for pooches should appear. Researchers found that dogs favored such things as harp music and the cartoon series "SpongeBob SquarePants."
While DogTV is a cable television first, the concept of making couch potatoes out of canines is not new.
More than 60 percent of U.S. dog owners already heed the national Humane Society's recommendation to keep a radio or television on in the house when their pets are left alone so the animals hear comforting voices rather than just silence, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a member of DogTV's scientific advisory board and a professor of veterinary medicine and behavior at Tufts University in Massachusetts. (Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott)