Can tech­nol­ogy help our pets lead bet­ter lives?

The Guardian Weekly - - The Guardian Weekly - John Brad­shaw

The idea of talk­ing an­i­mals is part of Ama­zon’s Shop the Fu­ture con­cept. It is mainly fo­cused on dogs, though in prin­ci­ple it could be adapted for other do­mes­tic an­i­mals. The core of the tech­nol­ogy would be a col­lar that mon­i­tors how the an­i­mal is mov­ing. When it recog­nises from those move­ments that the an­i­mal wants some­thing, the “speak­ing” part of the col­lar ac­ti­vates. For ex­am­ple, when the dog scratches at the back door, the col­lar might say: “I need to go out!”

Although Ama­zon’s in­ten­tions in an­nounc­ing such a prod­uct may have been more head­line-grab­bing than thought-through, they do raise the more se­ri­ous is­sue of how well we com­mu­ni­cate with our pets. De­spite all the time pres­sures im­posed by mod­ern life­styles, many of us still want pets in our fam­i­lies. Learn­ing to un­der­stand a new dog takes time, but many new own­ers seem woe­fully un­pre­pared for this, do­ing no re­search into what dogs’ needs are be­fore buy­ing one.

Mis­read­ing of a dog’s feel­ings can have se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Much at­ten­tion has been given to so-called dan­ger­ous dogs, es­pe­cially when one at­tacks an in­no­cent passerby, but what the head­lines ob­scure is that many of the most se­ri­ous at­tacks are by fam­ily dogs on the chil­dren they live with. Par­ents must en­sure that their dog is trained to be­have around chil­dren, and like­wise to teach their chil­dren the right way to ap­proach a dog.

From the dog’s per­spec­tive, the most use­ful tech­nol­ogy might be one that recorded their feel­ings not when their own­ers are nearby, but when they aren’t. Every day, mil­lions of dogs are left alone while their own­ers go out to work: most of them hate be­ing left alone. Some bark, some howl, some pace around; some sim­ply lie down and ap­pear to rest, but their sky­rock­et­ing stress hor­mones be­tray their anx­i­ety. Dogs can be trained to cope with be­ing left alone, but few own­ers are aware that they can do this. For those who ac­cept this re­spon­si­bil­ity, tech­nol­ogy that re­as­sured them that they were suc­ceed­ing would be a boon.

Dr John Brad­shaw is an hon­orary re­search fel­low at the Univer­sity of Bris­tol’s School of Ve­teri­nary Sciences and an au­thor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.