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Outdoors/Adventure

It’s a sad day when people need an A.I. collar to tell them when their dog is happy (or needs to go pee)

What do you think about an A.I. collar for dogs? A South Korean company has come up with a collar that is supposed to analyze your dog’s barks and translate them into something dog owners can understand.

Really.

The company used samples from a database of 10,000 barks from 50 breeds of dogs. That information was used to gauge the dog’s feelings based on different emotional states.

The collar claims an accuracy of 80%. But maybe four out of five isn’t good enough. (“Wow, the collar said my dog was happy I was taking the bone away from him ... why did he bite me?”)

Dogs speak mostly through body language and some, unknown to us, telepathy. To believe that dogs communicate mostly through barks is ridiculous to anyone who has been around multiple canines.

That is the problem with electronics. They are far from infallible. Last fall, a woman dropped off an American foxhound at our place. She found him running loose, complete with a radio collar equipped with a 5-mile antenna. American foxhounds make relatively poor pets. They are pure hunting dogs.

The caretaker of the dog depended on electronics. The foxhound scaled an 8-foot fence and went hunting. By the time the caretaker realized the dog was gone, it was out of range. Fortunately, there was a phone number on the collar. Good old hands-on written information.

Today’s world depends far too much on electronics. Sure, computers are quite valuable, but their place is indoors. Not in the woods.

I have heard plenty of stories from Unit 13 hunters about caribou that were taken from them by the authorities. There are no purple lines of demarcation on the tundra showing where federal lands end and state lands begin.

“That caribou is mine, boy. He is 30 feet from the federal boundary.”

“Sorry, officer, I wasn’t able to stand by his tail with my GPS.”

Though I have exaggerated the situation, the point is made. Years back, I was packing moose for folks along the Denali Highway. The directions given and the maps drawn by hunters explaining the location of their kills were comical:

“I think it’s a couple miles in on the 7-Mile Lake trail. Go to the big rock. Stand on it and look north by northwest. There is a bushy little spruce about a couple hundred yards out, kinda by itself, but not really, in some willows. The moose is a little ways out from there — maybe a bit more westerly. Careful, ‘cause it’s really thick and I saw some bear sign. I didn’t shoot from there, but maybe from a couple hundred feet to the north where you can see better.”

A GPS would have helped, but I had a good dog with a great nose (and no A.I. collar), and thus did not lose an animal.

Dog mushers are worse than hunters. Everyone on the Iditarod and Yukon Quest now carries a GPS. They want to know that it is only 8.7 miles to the next checkpoint.

My suggestion? Buy a map. Learn how to read the darn thing.

The next step for the Iditarod is drones overhead. Follow the drone. The mystique of long-distance dog racing is based on a return to basics, not technical perfection.

Every time we depend on technology to locate ourselves, we lose a little base knowledge. It’s called dumbing yourself down. A generation of knowledge lost will never be recaptured.

It happens in the woods and in town also. Every time someone tells me how to find their house by going on Google Maps, I cringe. It’s easier to say, “I live three houses down from B Street and Elm.”

Learn to find your own way in the woods. Leave the electronics in the house. Spend enough time with your dogs to get a feel for their language. What does some guy in South Korea know about an Alaskan husky? We have an old rescue husky in the house that neither I, nor anyone, has heard make a sound during the five years she has been with us. It’s going to tough to diagnose her barks. I can still hear well enough to wake to the sound of her toenails clicking across the floor when she needs out during the night.

My suggestion? Leave the A.I. in the sky. Computers are already smarter than we are, but I can’t believe a dog collar is. It’s a sad day when we can’t figure out a relatively simple canine who spends most of his time on our couch staring at us in an effort to communicate.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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