Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fido come! Fido sit! Fido... text?

Not being a certified gadget-phile like a number of my friends, I have not purchased (nor examined, nor picked up, nor used, nor really even given much of a thought to) the iPhone. Sure, it looks cool on the commercials, but at the price they're asking the damn thing better do more than make phone calls and text. It better do the macarena, clean my bathroom, and make me breakfast in the morning. It --

Wait, what? It can train my dog?

Okay, not exactly, but:
From Pocket-lint.com: "Designed in the UK and now launched world-wide, the 'Dog Remote' claims to help users train all types of dog to obey six simple commands like 'sit', 'lie down' and 'come', as well as offering useful training tips. Using 'hound-friendly sounds', inaudible to the human ear, the Dog Remote allows you to adjust frequency settings for the training to exactly respond to your dog's sensitive hearing-levels. The developers say: 'With Dog Remote, your pup will learn to respond correctly to different sound patterns that mean; sit, stay, come here, lie down, fetch and go to bed'. 'Dog Remote's comprehensive iPhone training-guide takes you through the easy steps that will teach your dog to respond firstly to your verbal and hand signals, then to transfer these skills to respond to the iPhone app.'"

Now call me crazy, but does anyone else think this is, at best, completely useless and, at worst, a Really Bad Idea?

First of all, you still have to, you know, TRAIN the dog to sit, down, come etc. The phone doesn't do that (nor cook your breakfast, sadly), so you're left to your own devices (no pun intended) to do that part, using whatever method you would normally use -- treats, clickers, abject begging, what-have-you.

[Incidently, I've heard that there is also a Clicker app for the iPhone. Gee, let me think about this: Buy a several-hundred dollar phone that will NOT be the better for interacting with the cheese and chicken in my pocket, or pay $1.29 for a plastic clicker... ]

So, yeah; useless for training the dog. Ah, but once Fido IS trained, you can teach him to correlate a particular audible-only-to-dogs sound with a command, such as down. Um... cool? I guess? But why? What's the purpose? If Fido already knows the word "Down," why wouldn't you just, you know, tell him "Down?" I mean, if he can hear the phone, he can also hear you speak, right? Doesn't it make much more sense to teach Fido that a hand signal correlates to a command, so that he will be able to respond in a noisy situation when your command might get lost in the cacophony?

If pressed, I suppose I could make a case for using the phone for performing tricks, when you want to wow the audience with a dog who does these behaviors (seemingly) without being cued. But it seems like an awfully cumbersome -- and expensive -- way to go about it. And I'm not sure fumbling around in your pockets is really preferable to giving Fido a subtle physical cue. Dogs are already amazingly tuned-in to body language. And what about Obedience and other performance events? Are the stewards going to have to frisk the handlers before they enter the ring to make sure they're not packing an iPhone? Gives whole new meaning to "ring tone", eh?

As for the Really Bad Idea part, what if someone else uses the "Come" command tone on THEIR phone while they're, say, walking down the sidewalk across a busy street? If your dog is trained to come to that tone, and he's more like a Golden Retriever in that he'll whore himself out for the only-slightly-cheese-flavored lint in a complete stranger's pocket, and less like my velcro corgis who sit outside the closed bathroom door and whine as though banished to Siberia, then training to that sound could conceivably get him killed. The chances of that happening might be really small, but with so little benefit, why take the chance at all?

Besides, your kids are already clamoring for a cell phone. Do you really want your DOG begging for one too? "*pant pant pant* but Moooooooommm, Fifi down the street has one! *pant pant pant* I need to be able to text my friends!! You don't me to be the omega at the dog park, do you? *pant pant*"

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