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Hello, It’s Your Dog

DogPhone allows dogs to video call their owners simply by moving a toy

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Are you ready to receive phone calls from your dog? A scientist at the University of Glasgow has developed DogPhone, a toy that allows dogs to video call their owners simply by shaking a ball.

Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a lecturer and assistant professor of animal-computer interaction at the University of Glasgow, became interested in developing technology in which dogs are active participants after realizing that current consumer technologies available to dogs—from games to trackers, health monitors, remote feeders, and video call systems—all have dogs playing a passive role.

“Dogs often had little to no choice in using these systems or controlling what these systems did,” she says. “I wanted to increase their choice and control.” She decided to flip the script and allow dogs to ring their owners.

Fitting a ball with a sensor, which triggers a call from a computer when it senses movement, Hirskyj-Douglas conducted a series of 16 study days over a three-month period with her dog, Zack, a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever. The results were perhaps exactly as one might anticipate.

Most of the time, it appeared that Zack called his owner accidentally, the study notes. Zack called Hirskyj-Douglas about five times a day and more than 50 times in all.

“Dog was playing with his pig and accidentally nudged the ball,” the record of one 30-second call reads.

“Dog rang me but was not interested in our call, instead was checking for things in his bed,” Hirskyj-Douglas wrote of one call. “He was busy elsewhere.”

And in dozens of calls, the dog was asleep when he nudged the motion sensor: “Dog sleeping cuddling the ball.”

Zack also never picked up when Hirskyj-Douglas called. “Originally, I kept thinking of that famous quote, ‘he's just not that into you,’ when I was ringing him and he was just not answering my calls,” Hirskyj-Douglas told CNN. But during several calls Zack made when he was awake, he showed her some toys and approached the screen, suggesting a desire to interact.

Phone: New Africa/

While the academic said she “can't know for sure that Zack was aware of the causal link between picking up the ball and making a call,” it was clear that sometimes he was “definitely interested in what he was seeing,” she says. “If he did not like the video calls, he could also have avoided touching DogPhone, so this implies some intent, but to what extent we do not know.”

Zack was purposely not trained to use DogPhone so that Hirskyj-Douglas could see what his natural interactions with it looked like. These ended up including classic butt-dialing (dogs, they’re just like us), sleeping with the system, playing, running, carrying, chewing, throwing, and more.

“We can build technologies for all these beautiful behaviours rather than training them to press buttons, which are made for humans,” enthuses Hirskyj-Douglas.

Currently there is no plan to develop DogPhone for sale, though Hirskyj-Douglas plans to build more devices for dogs, including technology that allows dogs to contact and play with other dogs while at home.

“DogPhone is the beginning of…dogs having more control and choice over their life through technologies,” she says. “We decide so much of their lives that maybe having this choice alone is kind of exciting in itself.”   

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!


Learn how to teach your dog to talk to you, yes, talk to you!



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