DogPhone lets anxious ‘pandemic pups’ call their owners by shaking a ball

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A loving owner has created a device that allows her pooch to video call her and ease his separation anxiety after her return to the office following lockdown. The DogPhone is the brainchild of Dr Ilyena Hirskyj- Douglas, helped by her 10-yearold labrador Zack.

He has been testing a ball fitted with a movement sensor which the dog picks up and shakes to prompt a call on a screen wirelessly connected to the device.

And when Ilyena answers, he wags his tail, pleased to see her as he approaches the screen to interact with her.

She is confident the two-way invention, said to be the first of its kind, could help “pandemic puppies” deal with the stress of being home alone.

Ilyena, a specialist in animalcomputer interaction at Glasgow University, said: “There are hundreds of internet-connected ‘smart toys’ owners can buy.

“However, the vast majority are built with the needs of owners in mind, allowing them to observe or interact with their pets while away from home.

“Few consider what dogs might want or how technology might benefit them as beings with thoughts and feelings.”

After several demonstrations of how the ball could start a call, Zack played with it for 16 days spread over three months.

There were accidental calls when he slept on it but several others involved the dog showing her his toys and approaching the screen, suggesting he wanted to interact. Ilyena then used her phone to show Zack her office, a restaurant and street busker, during which the dog pricked up his ears and approached the screen.

She said: “Of course, we can’t know for sure Zack was aware of the causal link between picking up the ball and making a call.

“However, on occasions he was interested in what he was seeing, and displayed behaviours he shows when we are physically together.” Ilyena is also working with Aalto University in Finland and the results of Zack’s interactions with a prototype DogPhone were the focus of a conference in Lodz, Poland, this year.

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She added: “What I wanted to do with DogPhone was find a way to turn Zack from a ‘use-ee’ of technology, where he has no choice or control over how he interacts with devices, into a ‘user’, where he could make decisions about when, where and how he placed a call.”

One unexpected drawback of the invention, which is still being tested, is that Ilyena is the one now suffering separation stress.

She said: “I found myself anxious when I placed a call to Zack and he wasn’t in front of the camera. I hadn’t considered this.”

It’s a dog’s life, Ilyena… and one for the future, she says, as she sets about updating her devoted device.

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