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Tag: technology

Prototype device allows blind people to keep tabs on the health of their guide dogs


Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a device that allows blind people to better monitor the health and well-being of their guide dogs.

The researchers are fine tuning a vibrating harness that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and shares the information with the dog’s handler, according to NC State News.

“Our goal is to let guide dog handlers know when their dogs are stressed or anxious,” said Sean Mealin, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the technology.

Mealin is blind and works with his own guide dog, Simba.

“This is important because it is widely believed that stress is a significant contributing factor to early retirement of guide dogs and other service animals,” Mealin said. “The technology may also be able to help handlers detect other health problems, such as symptoms of heat exhaustion.”

The researchers developed a specialized handle, equipped with two vibrating motors, that attaches to a guide dog’s harness.

harnessOne motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate.

When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.

The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s pinky finger, and vibrates in synch with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” said David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of the paper.

“This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public.”

The paper, “Towards the Non-Visual Monitoring of Canine Physiology in Real-Time by Blind Handlers,” was presented yesterday at the Second International Congress on Animal Computer Interaction, in Johor, Malaysia.

(Photos: NC State News)

A “loyal” robot dog is headed to the market


There is really only one reason we duly report on the latest robot dogs hitting the market, or headed that way: To show how sadly lacking in intelligence our own species is.

To think that technology — even WiFi-equipped technology — can replace a living, breathing dog is, after all, folly.

Nevertheless, the robot dogs keep coming as toy makers continue their futile effort to duplicate dog.

Expected to hit the market late next year is a dog called CHiP, which stands for Canine Home Intelligent Pet.

CHiP will be the first robot dog that’s able to show something resembling loyalty.

Even with that though, we don’t predict much of a future for CHiP. Still being fine tuned by a company called WowWee, CHiP will likely go the way of all robot dogs, from Sony’s AIBO to iCybee — into the garbage.

How CHiP differs from earlier versions of robot dogs — and there have been a few — is basically this. It has sensors that allow it to locate its ball and its bed and you, and it is equipped with Bluetooth, allowing you to connect with it from a band worn on your wrist.

This means it can do a cheap and phony imitation of one thing that up to now only real dogs could do: Get excited when you walk through the front door (assuming you program it to do so).

How sad a little life does the grown-up person who would do that have?

You get out of your car, pause at the front doorstep, tap your futuristic wrist band a few times, and presto, Chip will be waiting for you with tail a-wagging the second you unlock the door.

The $199 black-and-white robot pup, which won’t hit the marketplace until sometime next year, is said to have more smarts than its predecessors.

The head alone has an array of carefully hidden infrared sensors that give it a 360-degree view, which it uses to find its special ball and charging bed. Yes, it can perform a variaton of fetch. Yes,it can put itself to sleep at night and wake up all recharged and ready to go. Yes, it can even be “trained”.

With its Bluetooth and special “Smart Band,” reports, owners can, rather than displaying real love by petting their dog, send their dog “likes,” reinforcing those behaviors they want to make a regular part of the dog’s repertoire.

Mashable says CHiP looks like a cute, big-headed puppy (we disagree). We think, with it wheels, and shiny white plastic coat, and 360-degree sight line, it more resembles a freakish hybrid between dog and army tank, between Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and a “Star Wars” storm trooper.

“It does seem alive,” Mashable reports, adding that the robot dog’s tricks include sitting, squatting, shimmying, dancing around and making dog sounds.

We can think of only one proper home for such a dog — with the kind of person who wants none of the responsibility of dog ownership, prefers superficial relationships and probably shouldn’t have a real dog in the first place.

High tech device promises to tell a dog’s mood — by monitoring the wag of the tail

Yes, ohmidog! pokes cruel fun at “new technology” from time to time, but only when “new technology” deserves it — as is the case with this tail wagging monitor a group hopes to bring to the market.

Some Cornell University graduates have launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance the manufacturing of DogStar TailTalk, which they describe as a translator of dog emotions.

The device consists of a lightweight sensor that wraps around your dog’s tail, monitoring the speed and direction of the tail’s movement with an internal accelerometer and a gyroscope.

Coupled with a phone app, the developers say, it will tell you when your dog is happy, and when his or her tail wag may be a sign of stress.

wagThere’s some hard science behind it — but not much.

Scientific studies conducted in Italy have concluded that the prominent direction of a dog’s tail wag is an indicator of whether he’s happy or feeling anxiety, aggression or fear.

Wagging more to the right is said to be an indication of positive feelings.

The developers of the device say the direction of the wag isn’t always discernable to the naked eye: “Tail wagging is asymmetric and includes complex emotional signals that the human eye cannot recognize.”

We’re not so sure about that, just as we’re not so sure that a dog owner, seeing their dog’s tail wagging upon meeting, say, another dog, will have time to fire up the app to determine whether the meeting is going to go well.

Like a lot of canine-oriented technology — from treat poppers to automatic ball throwers to spy cams – this little gizmo takes over a task and/or responsibility that we should be doing ourselves, thereby growing closer and better knowing our dog, as opposed to distancing ourselves from our dog and giving them the features of robots.

As the goofy video above shows, the device may have some value when used remotely, such as learning the dog really doesn’t like the dog walker at all, but that — again — is something a dog owner should be able to ascertain beforehand without gyroscopes or apps.

The design team says it consulted on the project with “professors from the famous College of Veterinary Medicine in Cornell University.”

We think we smell a class project resurfacing for the marketplace. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Current plans call for the TailTalk app to work with iOS or Android phones, and to include features like the “Happiness Overview” function, which tracks a dog’s emotional status over the course of a day, a week, or a month. The monitoring device will be waterproof and “chew-resistant.” We can only hope that dogs, annoyed by having a tail attachment, don’t inadvertently chew through something other than the device.

So far, the campaign has raised about a third of its $100,000 funding goal.

If all goes according to plan, the TailTalk device will be ready to hit the market in about a year, and we suspect that — just as there are those who are willing to fund it — there will be those willing to buy it.

Because while the dog may sometimes wag his tail, and the tail may sometimes wag the dog, technology seems destined to almost always wag us.

But wait! There’s more

Sometimes, technology is little more than putting a bygone relic to new use.

Witness the Woof Washer 360 — basically a Hula Hoop with holes in it that attaches to your garden hose, allowing you to squirt your dog clean with the kind of coverage Anderson Cooper might envy.

It’s currently being direct-marketed to consumers with the kind of goofy ad direct-marketers are famous for.

“Rover loves to play, but he ends up filthy from the day,” we are told, as if we are second graders who wouldn’t otherwise realize that.

Simply connect the magic wand to a hose, add soap, slip it over your dog and the “sudsy solution” will “scrub” Rover clean — in less than one minute.

The secret, we’re told, is the “360 degree design…Amazing…like a soothing massage for your pet.”

Somehow, we are supposed to conclude that “Rover” will not be as frightened by a giant hoop producing dozens of streams of water as he is by a garden hose.

We are supposed to “Act now!” of course, because this item is “not available in stores.”

And what would any TV/Internet only offer be without the ubiquitous added incentive: “But wait, there’s more” — in this case a bonus “Woof Washer 360 Microfiber Quick Drying Mitt” to dry your dog even faster.

Woof Washer 360 comes in two sizes — small ($19.99) and large ($24.99).

One one level, it makes a weird kind of sense. Then again it looks like the kind of contraption that ends up stashed in the corner of the garage, gathering cobwebs.

But worry not; decades from now, when its unearthed anew, the grandkids can always use it as a Hula Hoop.

The robot dog: An idea whose time never came and (we hope) never will


Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?

It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.

The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.

cybieIf someone truly loves their robot dog, well, they most likely have become a robot, too, having let technology, and all the ease and superficiality it offers, write a new script for their lives.

I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.

A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.

Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.

It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.

It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.

Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.

Rault is wrong, and here’s why.

Dog robotTrue, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.

But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.

Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.

Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.

Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.

Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.

Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.

What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.

aibo_robot_dogSo I’m glad the obituary has been written for Sony’s “Aibo,” the best known robot dog.

Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.

Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.

Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.

“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.

“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”

He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.

phonedogAnd robotic pets, he says, are just so much easier — especially in “situations where live pets are undesirable (e.g., old or allergic people).”

“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”

He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”

I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.

Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.

Dogs taking pictures of what excites them

On your next family vacation why not let the dog take the photos?

Granted, you’ll likely end up with lots of shots of human knees and other dog’s butts, but you’d be on the cutting edge, technology-wise.

Nikon Asia has introduced “Heartography,” a photographic system that takes photos not just from a dog’s perspective, but — via a shutter trigger activated by increases in the dog’s heart rate — takes them of those subjects that excite a dog the most.

Heartography consists of a heartbeat monitor, a camera and a special housing that includes a shutter trigger activated when the dog’s heart rate rises.

The company video above shows how one dog, Grizzler, became a canine photographer with Nikon’s help.

Nikon Asia is billing the device as one that “turns emotions into photographs.”

CNET calls it more of a gimmick — a “publicity stunt for the Nikon Coolpix L31″ — and predicts it won’t catch on.

“The camera and 3D-printed case together are bulky, making the package an unlikely candidate for commercial production,” CNET reported. But the system “does give us a set of amusing images showing off all the things that get a dog excited, like people, upset cats and other dogs.”

$30,000 doghouse features treadmill, hot tub, TV screen and snack dispenser

Samsung Dream Doghouse.  EDITORIAL USE ONLYGracie, a terrier cross, tries out the Samsung Dream Doghouse created by the tech firm to celebrate their sponsorship of Crufts 2015 - which starts on Thursday 5th March at The NEC Birmingham.  Issue date: Wednesday March 4, 2015. The architect designed dog kennel, which features a Samsung Tab S entertainment wall, astro turfed treadmill and paw operated snack dispenser, took 12 designers over six weeks to create in the aim to represent the ultimate in luxury canine living. The Samsung Dream Doghouse will be on display at Crufts, which Samsung has been sponsoring for over 20 years. Photo credit should: David Parry/PA Wire URN:22410646

Here’s a swingin’ dog pad — or maybe dog pod is a better term — and it only costs $30,000.

Samsung’s Dream Doghouse, on exhibit  this week at Crufts, comes complete with an AstroTurf-covered treadmill, hydrotherapy pool, entertainment wall, and paw-controlled snack dispenser.

What,  no fireplace? No bar? No dim-able lights?

International Business Times reports that a team of 12 designers and builders collaborated on the project, which took six weeks to complete.

“The Samsung Dream Doghouse looks sleek and modern, featuring the kind of tech the discerning dog of the future will need,” Andy Griffiths, president of Samsung Electronics in the U.K. and Ireland, said in a press release.

“From dogs who have social media profiles, to owners who use video calling to check on their pet while away, technology is fast becoming an integral part of everyday life,” he added.

(Too fast, we think.)

You can’t order one just yet — Samsung only made one of the “dream houses” and gave it away via a social media contest.

But they’re hoping it will create a buzz at the Crufts Dog Show, which runs March 5-8 at Birmingham, England’s National Exhibition Centre. Samsung is one of the dog show’s sponsors.

Griffiths said the company surveyed 1,500 dog owners and found that a quarter of them wanted their pets to have their own treadmill, as well as a tablet or TV. Of the dog owners surveyed, 64% believed their pets would benefit from more technology and gadgets, and 18% said they’d like their furry companion to have a hot tub.

The doghouse has a vinyl wall that can be covered with photos. On the opposite wall, there’s a Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet — not so much because dogs can’t live without them, but because Samsung makes them.

So let’s review. The dog of the future will ensconce himself in a plastic pod, and watch videos, and soak in the spa, helping himself to treats whenever he wants one, but having the option to stay in shape by running on artificial grass while getting nowhere.

If that’s the dog of the future, I prefer to remain in the past.

(Photo: Gracie, a terrier cross, tries out the Samsung Dream Doghouse created by the tech firm to celebrate their sponsorship of Crufts 2015; by David Parry / PA Wire)