Every time I’m out of town, all I can think about is my pets and how I wish I knew what they were doing. This sentiment has led to the creation of many products, including surveillance cameras and devices that can throw treats from faraway locations.
The next step would be to invent a phone that we can use to call our pets and vice versa. That’s what Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow, attempted to do.
Dr. Hirskyj Douglas created a video calling device for Zack, a Labrador Retriever who is 10 years old.
It Didn’t Really Work
Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas, A specialist in animal-computer interaction, Zack fitted a ball with motion-detecting technology that triggers video calling. Zack would touch the device and it would contact her whenever she touched or nudged it.
The research took place over 16 days. Zack called Dr. Hirskyj Douglas approximately five times a days and more than fifty times in total. It turned out that almost all of these calls were accidental.
The published study includes notes from Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas’ log. One note summarizes:
“Dog rang me but was not interested in our call instead was checking for things in his bed.”
Zack would sometimes sleep next to the ball. This triggered a call.“Dog sleeping cuddling the ball,”The log states. Notably, the log also mentions wDr. Hirskyj – Douglas called Zack the hen, and he never picked it up.
This is a very early foray into research on dogs’ ability to use phones. Still, it seems this dream won’t become a reality any time soon.
Potential explanations for the Failure
There were a few problems with this experiment. Zack wasn’t really taught how to use the device. “phone.” Leading animal behaviorist, Dr. Patricia McConnell, also noted that the sample size of one dog and one person isn’t sufficient to make conclusions.
“A sample of one — one person and one dog — does not a study make, and I wish there had been more effort to train the dog to use the device instead of hoping he’d figure it out.”
Others experts mentioned inconclusive research that showed dogs could recognize human faces on screens. However, the idea behind the “dog phone”These questions are worth asking, they claim. Dr. McConnell wonders if:
“Do our dogs want to hear from us when we’re away from home? Or would they say, ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you?’”
Ultimately, it’s inherently difficult to determine these answers. According to the published study:
“It is possible that we humans might not know what an animal’s intentions are, or how they would interact with computer systems intentionally.”
What could Phoning Us do for our Dogs Agency?
One thing drives the “dog phone” research is the fact that dogs don’t have a lot of agency in their lives. Dr. Hirskyj -Douglas stated in an interview:
“I thought something like this could help dogs in some way to have more control and have choices. We decide so much of their lives that maybe having this choice alone is kind of exciting in itself.”
The potential product could help dogs with separation anxiety and isolation.
“I’m a crazy dog lady who would love to see more dog-controlled technology,” Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas said.
Though there aren’t any dog phones on the market now, this interesting study certainly “showed the future of dog technology can be very different from what it currently is.”
H/T The Cut