Why IBM’s Dog-Training and Pet-Sitting Drone Is a Horrible Idea


Call me old-fashioned, but the idea that a drone could replace a human pet sitter or dog trainer is absurd. IBM thinks otherwise and recently filed a patent for a drone that would do exactly that, according to Fortune magazine.

What kind of world are we living in that anyone would consider having a robot care for or train their pet? If you don’t have time for a dog or cat, don’t get one. Not only is this the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a long time, but it’s fraught with so many potential problems it makes my head spin.

A graphic representing the IBM drone patent.
A graphic representing the IBM drone patent.

According to the graphic filed with the patent request, the drone would dispense “behavior reinforcement.” Fortune describes: “If the animal misbehaves, the drone could issue a ‘vocalized warning and/or command’ to stop the misdeed. The drone could also be linked to a web-connected collar ‘to direct a behavior reinforcement.'”

Sounds like code for “shock collar” to me, one that could be triggered remotely if a pet is doing something undesirable, such as jumping on the furniture or going somewhere off limits. Using a shock collar should be against the law. It is in many countries, yet in the U.S., those who ignore the new science behind reward training still utilize these devices. Studies show the negative impacts of shock collars in training, and this alone makes me hope this product never gets developed, but there are other reasons as well.

What if the collar or drone malfunctions? What if the shock never stops and the food meant to positively reinforce behavior keeps flying through the air? What if a kid gets ahold of the controller and thinks how the dog reacts to the shock is funny? Malfunctions can and do happen.

Also, technology is awesome in so many ways, but not when it comes between us and our pets. That’s what this drone would do, and it could be the demise of the relationship. We form very deep bonds with our pets, as we walk with them, snuggle on the couch and practice training them . Inserting a robot into the relationship would weaken that bond. For heaven’s sake, why would we want to damage these extraordinary relationships?

Me working with dogs in 1990. I'll continue training this way, forever! No drone training for me.
Me working with dogs in 1985. I’ll continue training this way, forever! No training via drone for me.

To be fair, I was trying to think of any positive aspects of using a drone to take care of or train pets, but I couldn’t come up with a single one. If you can, I would love to hear it because this kept me up all night, thinking of what could go wrong.

I say to IBM, put the kibosh on this crazy idea. Or announce that it was an early April Fool’s Day joke. I would NOT purchase this drone and I would speak out against it were it to become a reality.

This is one time I’m proud to be old-fashioned. I love my pets too much.

About the author: Jill Breitner is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert. She is a certified Fear Free Professional for Puppies and Kittens, as well as Certified in Animal Behavior and Welfare. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language. Join Jill on her on her Facebook page

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