Could technology save your dog from separation anxiety?
Imagine a world where robots train dogs. A world where machines read your dog’s body language, recognize his stress signals, and help him get over his anxiety. Sounds farfetched, doesn’t it?
But, it’s hard to escape the headlines that artificial intelligence (AI) will change the world. AI is the science of teaching machines how to learn and think. Experts tell us AI will impact every area of our lives. We shouldn’t assume machine learning won’t transform dog training. And perhaps the notion of dog training androids isn't inconceivable either.
We may be some time off hiring cyborgs to train our dogs, but technology already contributes to treating dogs with separation anxiety.
Let’s have a look at the role of dog training technology today. And explore how tech could result in even bigger changes in the future.
If you want to reinforce your dog when you’re not around, a remote feeder is for you. The two main options are Pet Tutor and Treat and Train. Both are programmable and accommodate different reward frequencies. How might you use one? They can be handy for stays. For example, you ask the dog to stay as you move away. You’re a few steps away and can’t deliver the treat. Instead, the remote feeder delivers the goodies.
You can also use the remote feeder when you’re working on exercises that aim to change the dog's emotion. If your dog sees or experiences something scary, give him a delicious morsel. Do this repeatedly and you can change how he feels about the scary thing.
If your dog will eat when you’re doing your separation anxiety exercises, you might incorporate a remote feeder. The key is to make sure your dog gets the treat after you’re gone, not before you go. You want your departure to predict the treat, not the treat to predict a scary departure.
But here’s a note of caution. Don’t use remote feeders to distract your dog from his anxiety. Instead, use the feeders as part of a separation anxiety training plan. Your plan should aim to gradually get your dog used to being on his own.
Watching your dog while you’re doing your departure exercises is essential. Many camera setups offer this feature. There are three main types of setups.
1. Home security systems
Home surveillance systems can watch your home and yard – or your dog. The most popular ones are Nest, Presence, and Camio. All these allow you to look in on your dog via your smartphone or laptop and will record the session.
Most feature cloud storage and movement/sound notifications. These alerts can be helpful if you want to know what your dog’s up to, but don't have time to watch every minute of footage.
Except for Nest, all these setups need a camera. But, depending on the app, this could be one built into your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Some apps even allow you to use old devices.
Another option would be to add a webcam to the app. Cheap webcams are widely available these days.
Most of these systems offer recording, which is handy when you want to review a training session in detail.
2. Pet specific cameras
An interesting addition to the pet monitoring market is cameras that allow for interaction. These pet cameras might dispense treats or let you speak to your dog. They might play music for your dog or let him see you on the other end of a video call.
As with the remote feeders, you don’t want use pet cameras to dispense treats merely to distract. The camera feature is what’s most helpful to separation anxiety training.
3. Video calls and conferencing
A free and accessible option for checking in on your dog is to use a video calling or conferencing app. The way that would work is that you’d set up a phone or laptop so that your dog is in sight. Then you use that device to join the video call you’ve started from your other device.
So if Skype is the app you want to use, you’d set up a second account on Skype, and you’d Skype yourself. This would be the same with Hangouts or WhatsApp. With conferencing apps such as Zoom or GoTo, you’d join the open conference from your second device.
Some of these conferencing apps offer recording, which is a helpful feature to have.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of tech to help you spy on your dog while you’re doing your departure exercises.
But could these devices become even smarter? AI goes beyond automation. Machines with cognitive abilities take the thinking out of tasks. Many areas of work will be candidates for replacing more with AI. And, of course, AI is already a part of our lives. It helps us complete simple tasks using voice recognition platforms like Siri and Alexa. And it makes online shopping more personalized.
An existing player in the pet camera market, Furbo, recently added an AI component to their camera. The makers claim the Furbo will be able to spot signs of stress in dogs, such as barking and pacing. Their camera does this by collecting user data to teach Furbo how to identify anxious dogs. The more people use Furbo on their anxious dog, the more accurate the assessment becomes.
Machine learning excels at spotting trends and patterns in data. Imagine if machines were able to plot out training plans for your dog. And that these plans used reams of data from treated separation anxiety dogs. These plans might predict the steps you need to fix your dog in the most efficient way, far outperforming the human trainer in this task. Wouldn’t that be neat?
We need to remember AI will impact us all. It will change our lives in ways we don’t see as conceivable now; in ways beyond our imagination.
Despite the potential for transformation, some things will remain constant. I’m convinced machines won't beat us at giving belly scratches, playing ball, and looking deep into a dog’s eyes. Our role as the #1 entity our dog’s life is secure for some time to come.
If you want to find out how technology could help your separation anxiety dog, book a free consultation.