While I was at Chirag Patel’s Woof! Animal and Behaviour Conference this year, there was a bit of an impromptu demonstration of Furbo, by the team from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. They had one in a room back at Battersea, West London, and we (the whole room of delegates) used it to train a dog in that room to go to his mat. No words, no gestures, only using this gadget and the app.
So how did this work?
Furbo is advertised as a dog camera, and yes it has a camera, which when connected up via wifi you can view from the app on your phone. It also has a bark monitor, so if you choose to have that on you get an alert if your dog barks. The gadget also has a microphone, so you can talk to your dog. But what we were utilising was the treat dispensing function – press a button on the app, and it throws out a treat from the device. So we shaped the behaviour of the dog going to the mat, by throwing a treat any time he went near it.
My mind was blown.
Furbo would be such an ideal tool to help hone my shaping skills. No unnecessary talking getting in the way, no gestures for the dog to pick up on. No cheating by luring when I got impatient with the dog.
I was umming and ahhing about it, when from out of the blue I got an email from the company representing Furbo, asking if I would be interested in receiving a device, in exchange for writing a post about it. I think as you’re reading this, you can guess what I said!
I was so excited when it arrived, complete with a bag of treats to start us off (you don’t need special treats for it, you just need to make sure they’ll fit through the dispenser). I plugged it in, downloaded the app, had no trouble connecting up (I use Android by the way, but it also works on iphone). I followed the instructions for introducing Furbo to your dog, put the treats into it, let Kimber sniff it. I then put it on the counter, opened the app and hit the treat button and…
I was very proud of my self-restraint, at not just ripping the paper off without taking any pictures!
Ooops. I’d done all this with excited techy-geek and dog-mum hats on, not with thoughtful dog-trainer cap.
My dog, who has historically been scared of the printer, and other things that have mechanical noises, and who was currently feeling a bit off, as he’s had an infected cut in his paw, shot out of the room with his tail between his legs. I won’t lie, it’s not a quiet noise, and it was accompanied by the recorded sound of a squeaky toy. After a couple of attempts, with the device on the other side of the room to Kimber, I had to stop. I’d freaked him out too much the first time, and I now had work to do.
I am currently making a plan to desensitise Kimber to Furbo, and waiting until he’s fully recovered from his paw, so he won’t be feeling so vulnerable. I have also left Furbo plugged in, and set up on our mantelpiece, and so far he’s not appeared to be put out by its presence. I’ve discovered you can replace the squeaky toy sound with your own recording, so it’s now me saying “Good Boy”.
We’ve used the camera a couple of times to check up on him when we’ve been out, and I even managed to use the treat dispenser functionality once when my boyfriend’s brother’s dog was staying with us for an afternoon – he just looked at it and snuffled up the treats thrown for him.
The bark monitor is the least helpful aspect I’ve found. We have a Ring doorbell, and when that detects motion, it automatically records, so we can go back and see what was happening at the time though the app. With Furbo however, that’s not an option, so unless you see the alert right away, you don’t know why your dog was barking, or at what. Or even if it wasn’t your dog at all – I’ve had alerts on occasion when it was just us, laughing too loudly at the TV. It would be fabulous if it auto-recorded when it sensed barking.
Look out for a future article on how it goes with getting Kimber to love Furbo…