Dogs are most likely the first animal that humans domesticated, and we have a relationship that goes back at least 15,000 years. In that time, we have bred and trained dogs to understand both our verbal and non-verbal queues. No other animal is capable of understanding and obeying us as well as dogs can — not even other primates. Over the course of those thousands of years, we’ve developed a number of techniques for training and directing dogs. Now researchers from the Ben-Gurion University in Israel have created a new method using a haptic feedback vest.
Haptic technology refers to anything that can stimulate your sense of touch. The most simple and common haptic feedback is delivered through vibrations, such as when you get a notification on your smartphone. In this case, they’re using that haptic feedback to command a dog remotely. The dog is question is a very good boy named Tai, who is a six-year-old German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever mix. They built Tai a special vest that has four vibration motors in it: front, back, left, and right. With a remote control, Tai’s trainer can activate each of those vibration motors independently in a variety of patterns to give the dog commands.
In training, Tai was able to learn what each haptic command meant in less than an hour. He could then obey those commands whether his trainer was in sight or not. For example, a constant vibration from both rear units means he should lie down. The idea here is that dogs can be directed remotely and don’t have to be within visual — or even auditory — range of their handler. Haptic commands are also more discreet than traditional commands, which makes this vest particularly ideal for military working dogs. It also allows speech-impaired handlers or deaf dogs to work together. Tai may be an unusually smart dog, but this vest would likely work just as well as other training methods for most dogs.