I saw this article about an electronic harness that a service dog can wear that they can use to communicate with us, and thought so many things.
My first thought, after reading only the title, was “if they could pull this off, that would be freakin cool! How would this work?” Then I thought about this old post about prison guard dogs, and wondered if it was related.
Then I read a little more, and I started to wonder a. just how much more this would benefit us, and b. just how practical it would be for the dog?
So, some people at the Georgia Institute of Technology came up with this. It’s a vest that the dog would wear, I have no idea whether they would wear this on top of their regular harness or what, with a processor that sits between their shoulder blades. Hanging from the vest are an array of pull toys and buttons they can push or pull to indicate a bunch of stuff. Curbs, stairs, tornado sirens, or the more ridiculous example mentioned in the story, wet cement. Apparently the array of bobbles and gadgets would depend on what kind of job the dog did, thank god, or there would be quite a pile of useless doo hickies.
Let me get this straight. On top of my dog having to navigate me around stuff and think of the best way to go, she would have to then select the right pull toy to tell me about it? Wouldn’t this be even more taxing on a dog that has a hard enough job already?
And, for all the things that there would be buttons and toys for, wouldn’t they be things we already had ways to figure out? I know how to check for stairs. I know how to look for a curb. I can sense a wall or a door. It’s the less conventional things that I wish the dog could tell me about, things like their wet cement example. Just how would they put a button in for wet cement and how would the dog know which one to push? How could they ever be able to build for those weird situations, the one in a lifetime situations, the ones where you don’t get any clue, and the only thing you can do is trust your dog and try to figure it out? For example, there was a case years ago where the elevator doors opened and there was just a shaft. How the hell are you going to build in a signal button for that?
Another thing is just how many things do you want your dog to signal for. Honestly, do you want your dog, as it pulls you out of the way of a stroller, to tell you what it’s pulling you out of the way of? The point of guide work is to be fluid, and fast. Sometimes there isn’t time to exchange words. One day, a person on a scooter was about to take me out at the mall. Tansy made a tweak in our travelling path, and scooter person zoomed on by on the right. What if she had to tell me about it?
And it’s my dogs’ state of being I’d want to know about. I would love it if something would allow the dog to tell me “My head hurts a lot,” or “I’m tired,” or “I think I hurt my leg,” or “I can’t see very well all of a sudden,” or “I’m feeling really anxious because of that high-pitched noise coming from the building.”.” Those are the harder things where I wish the dog could talk.
I don’t like to spit all over technology, although I seem to do it a lot on this blog. But I just don’t know if making the dog do another task on top of having to focus on its job is a good idea. Maybe this thing will take off and I’ll want one. But I’m just not sure.