The Modern Dog Apparently Needs Her Own Phone

Koala, a black Lab, studies her iPadThose of us old enough to have been teenagers before everyone over the age of 4 had smartphones in their pockets may remember how desperately we wanted our own phone. By which I mean a physical telephone that was an extension of the family landline, but one that we could use (for hours) in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

Not only are today’s children more likely to have their own phones, apparently, so are some dogs.

The DogPhone, invented (one must wonder why) by a Scottish professor, is a device that allows a bored, lonely, anxious, or playful dog to call her owner’s cellphone. Actually, the device triggers a video call, which puts the dogs in a technical skills league ahead of many adults …

Showing some insight into dog behavior, the inventor of the DogPhone packaged the phone inside an appealing ball. This nicely sidesteps the problems of dialing without opposable thumbs and an inability to read the numbers on those tiny keys.

Apparently, your dog also needs her own laptop or tablet, as moving the ball triggers a video call which connects the dog’s laptop with the owner’s phone.

The inventor, Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, told Gizmodo that the device is intended to enable researchers to “study the way dogs experience technology” and “improve and study the user experience for dogs.”

I wasn’t aware that my dog had a smartphone “user experience” other than leveraging the observation that I am using one as a chance to bark or otherwise demand attention. It had also never occurred to me that Cali might “experience technology” other than as the source of many irritating noises or as competition for my attention. So if you’re mystified by the need for this device, you’re not alone.

Cali has many talents but holding up her end of a conversation is not among them. And I can deliver neither treats nor belly rubs via video phone; I also cannot let her out / back in or throw a tennis ball. Since those are my only useful functions, I am not sure how much use Cali would have for the device.

A short YouTube video about the DogPhone offers some interesting insights. A hint: Despite her statements about the importance of giving dogs agency and control over their use of technology, I am not convinced that this is actually about the dog. For instance, Hirskyj-Douglas mentions feeling anxious if her dog doesn’t phone at his “usual” time.

I’m all for giving dogs agency and choices — but within limits. And within parameters that are meaningful to dogs. I let Cali choose which toy to play with or which direction to go on our walks, for example. But I do not let her order takeout or borrow my credit card to shop at the Holistic Pet Nutrition Center, her local grocery, treat, and toy emporium.

Anyhow, most of us have enough friends and family members calling, texting, Snapchatting, and Slacking us throughout the workday to torpedo our productivity. Do we really need to add a bored dog to the mix? How are we going to resolve her boredom from afar anyhow? Or, consider the other end of the spectrum — the dog who just loves to play with this specific ball… triggering constant chats until the battery dies!

So no, Cali is not getting her own phone for Hanukkah this year (or any other year). And I am adding this to a growing list of dog-focused technologies that just did not need to be invented. Just because we can make a phone for dogs, that does not mean that we should!