Meet Mo. He was found by some friends of a work colleague, two young girls on their way to school, in a plastic bag which had been dumped in a garbage skip. He wasn’t alone, there were four other puppies in the bag, three of them were already dead. The girls could keep one of the survivors, but not both. As I’m sure you can understand, I found myself unable to say no.
And bear in mind that I’m not into dogs. I never had one growing up, and we live in an apartment in the middle of the city, and we travel quite a lot, so no way were we ever going to have a dog. That would just be silly.
And yet, the black and white dog-breath hairball has made my family so happy. We’re generally cheerful people, but since Mo burst into our lives, we laugh more, we play more, and it really seems like my kids’ hearts have grown in size.
So today, just before we head off to London for Christmas, I’m going to briefly tell you about dogs and technology. I often write about gadgets that enhance our lives and/or help society. Why should dogs be left out?
I’ve written before about the booming sector of wearable fitness trackers. You guessed it, they exist for dogs, too. FitBark, which hit the market this summer, attaches to your dog’s collar, and tracks his or her activity. Is he or she getting enough exercise? How is your dog reacting to a life changing event? Whistle is another dog activity tracker, and from late 2015, WhistleGPS will also track your dog’s location. Tagg, due to ship in February, will track your dog’s activity, whereabouts, and ambient temperature wherever he is. Voyce, which is expected to ship in March, tracks your dog’s activity, whereabouts and vital signs such as his heartrate, breathing and even calories burned.
Mo hardly ever barks, and when he does, we often disagree on what he’s trying to tell us. No More Woof (in development) should help us out, it will “decipher” your dog’s barks to let you know if he’s hungry, scared, tired or simply annoyed about these weird gadgets you keep fixing around his neck.
When it comes to play, technology is also there to show us that a ball is not always enough. Petcube lets you see, talk to and play with your dog while you’re at work. It sits on the counter with its wide-lens camera and microphone, and a remotely-controlled laser pointer lets you take a playful break that’s good for both of you. Petziconnect is a similar concept, but also lets you take photographs, and instead of a laser pointer, you can remotely activate the treat dispenser to give your dog a nice surprise.
But, it’s not all about hyper-dogging your dog. Dog technology can save human lives. We all know that dogs are smart (not so sure about Mo, though, but that’s another story), and can be trained to perform detailed tricks and to follow complicated instructions. When it comes to helping people, it’s not just the blind who benefit. Dogs can be trained to turn on light switches or press buttons that open doors for handicapped owners, or to raise the alarm if their diabetic human friend collapses. But if the buttons and switches are in high-contrast colours, have different sizes and can be activated by a nose or a paw, the training time necessary is drastically reduced. It turns out it’s almost intuitive. The same happens with alarms that are multi-coloured ropes that the dog can pull with its teeth. And yes, dogs can help to detect the presence of cancer cells in humans. A technological device lets the dog even indicate its level of certainty.
Technology is about optimization, of our time, our abilities, our health… The optimization of our dogs’ lives is an inevitable extension, and while each of us dog-owners can choose to do that in the way we see as most “enhancing”, improving our best friends’ health and mental agility has to be a better investment than dog jewellery and fashion. How do they feel about it? Probably not that much different from how we feel when our technology helps us achieve better health, more mental stimulation and a greater sense of security. Do dogs need any of this? Well, do we? It’s available, and it not only enhances but also saves lives. And in the process, what we learn about dogs’ brains, bodies and thoughts will help us to better understand their world. And ours.
— x —
Mo, myself and the rest of the family wish you HAPPY HOLIDAYS, and a very Happy New Year!! Until January!