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Training canines with vibrating vests

December 1st, 2019 / By: / Swatches

Tai was easily trained to respond to commands via painless vibrations in a fabric vest fitted with motors like those in cell phones. Photo: Jonathan Atari.

Haptics is the technology of touch. It’s all about understanding how to use the senses of touch and motion to convey meaning, direction or a command. A research team at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is using haptic technology to train our four-legged friends to respond to nonverbal cues. The technology is particularly suited to search-and-rescue dogs that need instructions during remote operations or for service dogs for disabled handlers.

The researchers took a commercially available mesh canine vest and modified it with four small vibrating motors positioned in different areas over the back and sides. The dogs can be trained to respond to different vibrations sent to the motors via wireless remote control. 

The animals differentiate commands based on the site that vibrates in the vest and the duration of the vibrations. In tests, Tai, a six-year-old Labrador retriever/German shepherd crossbreed, learned to respond to the touch and motion stimulants in commands including “spin,” “down,” “to me,” or “backpedal.” Dogs can be trained to respond to a number of directives, including retrieving an object or returning to their handler, even from a distance.

The researchers plan to test the haptic vest technology on different canine breeds, ages and levels of training experience. In the future, they hope to integrate more advanced haptic devices into search and rescue, military canine operations and service dog programs. For more information, visit www.in.bgu.ac.il