Robotics – The New Trend?
A high school student in India and a robotics company in Japan are both testing robotic servers for both home and restaurant use. We have cars that can drive themselves, vacuums that are self-guided, and autonomous lawn mowers for cutting grass. As we come to grips with a more technological society, and often become reliant on it, I am saddened by the number of clients who also want a “robotic” dog.
This really isn’t a new trend when it comes to living with a dog. So often clients have a vision of the dog who performs every cue flawlessly, every time, and disappears to its bed or crate when not needed. Many believe the dog is already “programmed” to behave without the need for continual training. They get irritated with normal dog behaviors, wishing the dog would always “behave.” There are misconceptions galore, myths that still permeate our interactions with dogs, and trainers who haven’t graduated to modern, science-based methods. All of these contribute to setting dogs up to become little robots, forgetting that they are sentient beings with feelings, emotions, and the ability to communicate with us if we know how to listen!
Dogs cannot be robotic. They are living in the moment, assessing everything around them. To a dog, especially young ones, the world around them is either safe or unsafe, pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable, and reinforcing or non-reinforcing. This assessment includes the people in their lives. Choose your interactions wisely or you may become scary and unpleasant!
Our training methods should reflect that dogs have emotions. Research has shown that dogs have the same mental and emotionally capacity as a two-year-old child. Dogs are capable of feeling joy, fear, and anger. They are also capable of complex decision-making processes. The Modern Dog magazine published an informative article on this subject. It is only one of many. Time Magazine has published several special editions covering the emotions and thinking processes of dogs.
Canine Cognition is an area of study we are just tapping into. Duke and Yale Universities have Canine Cognition Centers as do many other forward-thinking institutions. Why, then, do we continue to accept that training methods using force, fear, intimidation, and pain are okay when we KNOW that dogs interpret these the same way a child does?
Isolating a dog for hours at a time without enrichment, while we go about our busy lives, causes frustration for a dog. Endless “corrections” for what is essentially normal dog behavior creates increased stress. A dog is bound to explore its environment, not “dock” itself to a “place” long term, like some Roomba on four legs. Stress, frustration, and boredom for many dogs is, sadly, a daily occurrence. I would argue that many of today’s pet dogs, although well cared for in their owner’s eyes, are lacking in some of the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. Not sure what those are? Assess your dog’s life by reading this wonderful article published in the Whole Dog Journal.
If you own a dog, PLEASE understand that it is not a robot. It CANNOT be treated like a piece of furniture, a handbag, a computer, or as something disposable. It has a world of its own and it is trying to fit into yours. Learn about his world. Learn how he communicates. Learn how he thinks. Try to understand how he perceives YOUR behavior. Would he treat you the same way you treat him? Sending him “away” for training, using pain to “teach” him to be more compliant, often creates the illusion of a fur covered robot. True, he may learn quickly to “behave” but at what cost? Your relationship with him suffers. His robotic behavior is simply one of “learned helplessness.” How sad that the dog we brought into the family is treated this way.
Robots are inventions to make our life better. Dogs DO make our lives better. Please do not confuse the two. And let’s stop trying to make real dogs behave as if they are automated. If an automated dog is what you want perhaps you should purchase Sony’s robot dog, Aibo. (Photo credit:Geoffrey Fowler/The Washington Post)