As seen at the APDT Conference 2013 in Spokane,WA www.apdt.com
From phone apps to tracking systems or food dispensers, over the past decade, technology has gradually made its way into the world of dog training. There was a time where most technology was applied to tools that were primarily focused on punishing the animal, delivering a shock, a buzz or a spray, but with the advances in our understanding of animal behavior and the development of mechanical and electronic tools, we now have new ways to apply technology to positive reinforcement. Smart Animal Training Systems is a brand new company dedicated to the development of positive solutions to help owners (or guardians) and trainers with their pets. The company is launching the most advanced technological training device: Pet Tutor™ (patent pending),a remotely controlled intelligent treat dispensing tool designed to assist us in training, feeding and playing with our pets.
Wes Anderson, the man behind this incredible device is both an electrical engineer and a passionate dog trainer. I met Wes as a service dog volunteer during the years when I was the director of training for a service dog organization. Wes had always struck me as a methodic, thoughtful trainer; combining both technique and experience. Wes was the volunteer that I would send the dogs to with the most difficult problems. Through his experience at chicken camp, he had acquired a keen understanding of applied behavior analysis. He is also a true fan of Bob Bailey and was inspired by his work at ABE (Animal Behavior Enterprises). He saw a need for technology that could assist when we couldn’t be around, or when training needed standardized repetition.
After a few years of dedicated attention to the development of his new treating device, Wes asked me to help him with the development of training and behavior modification protocols and to write a blog. His main focus: providing a reliable, quiet and versatile tool to assist owners and trainers with their pet. The goal was also to offer alternatives to punishment for treating common behavior issues such as barking. When I realized the potential this device could offer, I enthusiastically joined his efforts. Today, the majority of Smart Animal Training Systems’ team come from backgrounds in working with the training of service dogs so the standards of what an animal can learn are very high.
So what is Pet Tutor®? It is not quite ready for purchase yet, but let me give you a sneak peak. Designed to offer trainers and owners ways to apply positive reinforcement when training or working through behavior problems, Pet Tutor® is an incredibly versatile and reliable treat dispensing device. In other words, if you can think of a situation where you would need to either remotely or automatically dispense treats to a dog, chances are, Pet Tutor® can do it. The design goals for this smart device were to:
1) Dispense treats reliably, in other words to deliver only one to a few treats at a time. It was important to avoid any jamming that would make the training session frustrating and ineffective. The patent pending treat dispensing technology Wes and his engineering team have developed is truly creative and makes it very hard to jam;
2) Assure treat distribution as quietly as possible. If a system is too loud, some dogs may get scared, turning positive reinforcement into positive punishment so much effort was put into the noise this device would produce. As a result, Pet Tutor® is completely silent and all you’ll be able to hear is the sound of the treat as it falls into the cup or onto the floor.
3) Make it small enough to work in different settings. Pet Tutor® can operate while set on a floor base, mounted on a crate or even hung up out of reach. It can be filled with 4 cups of food yet its simple and small shape makes it easy to fit in all sorts of spaces.
4) Give it expandable capability through wireless technology. Pet Tutor® will be able to be activated via smart phones and computers. There will be an app to use with it, but trainers and pet owners will be able to create their own app, to customize it even further depending on their own needs.
It’s hardly possible to cover all that Pet Tutor® can be used for, but here are the main categories where this device can be of assistance:
TRAIN: Pet Tutor® comes with a smart remote or can be set up to work automatically. We can reward the dog for staying on his bed, for instance or for being silent. The remote itself also has the ability to be triggered by sound so we can play certain sounds, like thunder, baby’s cries or the doorbell and let Pet Tutor deliver treats every time the sound is played. While gradually increasing the volume, thus the system can truly help in sound desensitization protocols. We can also set it up so that Pet Tutor® starts delivering food after several seconds of silence, so we now have the option to automatically reward the dog for silent and calm behavior, assisting in separation anxiety or attention barking protocols.
FEED: Pet Tutor® can be used as a feeder. Just like other feeders, it can be set up to dispense a whole meal. The big difference is that it won’t dispense all the food at once, but instead will slow down feeding and increase the time it takes the dog to eat by delivering the food little by little. When turned around on its base, the kibble will shoot out on the floor, turning feeding into a game. This way of feeding provides the animal with more activity during the day and we all know that many behavior issues come from a lack of things to do. Instead of eating in just a minute and building up energy, our pets get to anticipate and chase after the food. They are predators after all and if they lived in the wild, they would spend most of their day looking for food instead of simply eating out of a bowl.
PLAY: Pet Tutor®’s remote also has a motion sensor. We’re used to putting treats in different toys, but what if we could place the remote inside one of these toys? Every time the dog moves the toy, it delivers a treats. The toy can then gradually be moved further and further away from the food source, getting the dog (or the cat, the ferret, …) to run back and forth between the two and expanding the ways we can provide enrichment opportunities for our pets.
Pet Tutor® was designed and tested by dog trainers for trainers and pet guardians who want the best for their pet. These are just a few examples of course of how the system could be applied and we’re all excited to see how it will be used by others to either increase their training possibilities, or help their pets with dealing with anxieties or fears or other problematic behaviors. At Smart Animal Training Systems, we’re all committed to supporting positive reinforcement through smart technology and information on our website, Youtube channel and of course, on our blog. We’re also really interested in hearing from you and getting your thoughts about this product as well as hearing about your particular needs. We’ve just launched our brand new website ‘SmartAnimalTraining.com’ where more information will be posted about Pet Tutor® as well as other products that we develop and/or support.
To see Pet Tutor® in action, check out the video below.
Jennifer Cattet Ph.D.