Tech Talk with Intel: Will Robotic Dogs Guide the Blind?

A dog and a person.Will robots and other technology replace guide dogs?

I’ll never forget the first day of service dog team training. One of the first things the trainers told us was, “Your new dog is not a robot.” And, here we are 20 years later talking about robots as assistance dogs.

Intel’s technology, as it relates to assistance dogs, was recently discussed in an article by Scott Jung, iQ Contributor & Senior Editor at MedGadget. During International Assistance Dog Week, Intel suggested technologies that honor not only the dogs that faithfully guide the visually impaired to greater independence, but also the work they inspire.

The report explains that because guide dogs can’t go everywhere, and can’t live with everyone, doctors, engineers, and scientists are developing technology that can help people with visual impairment.

In Japan an electronics company and a university have teamed up to work on guide robots. The project, which has been underway since 2009, now has refined their earlier models, which look less like R2-D2 and operate more like a dog now, with four robotic legs that can climb stairs, and the ability to respond to verbal instructions.

Other companies around the world are working on wearable technology, like the Eyeronman, a vest which uses LIDAR, a sort of laser radar, to detect obstacles. Smart glasses that use technology to enhance vision are another strategy being explored. And there’s the BrainPort, which converts images seen by a video camera into an “image” the user feels on his tongue.

As the article concludes, “While robots and wearable devices don’t look, bark or snuggle like dogs, the guide dogs we salute this week and the assistive technology they’ve inspired have something very important in common: both help the visually impaired lead more independent lives.”

You can read the full article at

How to Choose the Best Chew Toy for Your Assistance Dog

August 1, 2011 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Equipment/Supplies · Comment 
chew toy

Toys are an important part of your assistance dog’s overall health and well-being. Having appropriate, engaging chew toys is important not only for entertainment but it can also support their dental health and ease anxiety.

I don’t know about you but when I got my first assistance dog, I did not have much experience with highly trained dogs and I was unsure about what were the best chew toys on the market.

Over the years, I have learned the hard way but I came across an article about chew toys this year in the Cornell University DOG Watch publication. The article provides an array of information about selecting the best chew toy.

As we all know, there are an endless variety of dog toys on the market but not all toys are right for your dog. Every dog has his or her own preference in toys. However, the key thing you need to keep in mind is safety first.

When choosing a toy best suited for your dog, you want to think about:

  • Is your dog young or extremely active?
  • Does he have any food allergies?
  • What size is your dog?
  • Is he a dedicated chewer or does he prefer to carry around a stuffed toy?

Most chew toys fall into the following categories:

  • Rawhide
  • Dental Chews
  • Nylabones and Kongs
  • Puzzle Toys
  • Stuffed Toys and Rope Toys

Rawhides are just like it sounds, cured animal hide shaped into strips or bones. Most dogs love them and gobble them up. Be aware that rawhides soften when chewed and can become lodged in your dog’s throat. You need to be cautious and monitor your dog as they enjoy a rawhide.

Dental Chews can help to prevent periodontal disease by helping to clean your dog’s teeth and freshen their breath. They certainly do not replace brushing your dog’s teeth but they can play an important part in a healthy dental routine. CET chews, Hextra chews, DentaBones, and Greenies are just a few on the market.

Nylabones and Kongs – Nylabones are made from nylon, resins, hard-packed rubber and other synthetic materials. They are similar to regular bones but they won’t usually splinter or break as easily. Kongs are extremely durable toys made of hard rubber. You can even insert your dog’s favorite treat into some kongs such peanut butter, cream cheese, dog toothpaste, etc. Kongs stuffed with a special treat are great to encourage your dog to lick and chew. This oral stimulation will hopefully help them to relax and rest.

Puzzle Toys engage your dog’s mind, paws, nose and teeth. It will depend on your dog’s preference whether or not he appreciates the stimulation or if he simply gets frustrated and becomes uninterested.

Stuffed Toys and Rope Toys are best for gentler dogs. These types of stuffed toys can be very dangerous for dogs with a strong prey drive. Keep a close eye on the squeaker inside these types of toys. It can become a choking hazard for your dog. Rope toys can be fun but be sure to keep the ends knotted. If it becomes untied, your dog may shred and ingest it, resulting in digestive problems.

It is best to have a variety of all of these types of toys available for your dog. Whistle has to pick up his toys and store them in one of two toy boxes in our house. We regularly go through his toy boxes and donate any toys that he no longer seems interested in to our local animal shelter.

As Cornell University’s article stated, the two key things that I need to remember when selecting a chew toy for my assistance dog are:

  • Everything in moderation…and with supervision.
  • There is no substitute for human interaction.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (February 2011) “How to Choose the Best Chew Toy”. DOG Watch. 15(2): 1.

Service dogs and pinch collars: help or hindrance?

January 18, 2010 · Posted in Equipment/Supplies, Service Dogs, Training · 20 Comments 
pinch collar

We really enjoy watching professional dog trainers work their dogs. I am amazed at how they can command their dog’s attention and maintain a level of control over their dog’s head through the use of a leash and collar.

As a wheelchair user, handling a dog can be challenging. From a sitting position, it can be more difficult to manage my service dog’s movements without the assistance of other techniques and devices such as a pinch collar or training collar.

Does your service dog forge or as I refer to it, have a secret desire to be a member of a sled dog team? All three of my service dogs have had a wandering head for either food particles on the floor or the need to get ahead of my wheelchair. I always feel so guilty for using a pinch collar but I have to say, it works like a charm.

When a trainer suggested a pinch collar for my first dog, Ramona, I was shocked and appalled. How could I put such an offensive looking device on my little angelic service dog? Well, my little angel was eating everything in sight and the pinch collar definitely got her attention. Ramona was more responsive to me whenever she was wearing it AND I didn’t have to pull so hard on her.

My second dog, Morgan definitely had aspirations to be a member of a champion sled dog team. He was somewhat interested in food, but he was more interested in forging ahead of me. This posed a real problem as I started developing shoulder and neck pain because of the force I had to apply to keep him from forging ahead and literally pulling me out of my wheelchair.

When I put a pinch collar on him, he too became more aware of his forging and became much better at heeling beside my wheelchair without pulling me out of my chair or causing irreparable shoulder damage.

My current service dog, Whistle, has these similar tendencies although they are not as pervasive as with Ramona and Morgan. He likes to find morsels on the floor that he can scoop up and he likes to forge every now and then. What he does like to do that Morgan and Ramona didn’t do, is he likes to sniff where other dogs have urinated. He just can’t seem to resist.

I was so thrilled because I really haven’t had to use a pinch collar on Whistle. However recently, his desire to sniff where other dogs have relieved themselves has become an increasing problem.

As a result, I finally broke down and purchased a new pinch collar for Whistle. Once again, it looked very offensive to me. I was so worried that I was hurting him, although I know it looks much worse than it actually is. And, I have to say, it has really curbed the issue of Whistle breaking from a “heel” command to sniff uncontrollably. So for now, I am back to using a pinch collar when Whistle and I are in public. I have to ask, “how do you feel about using a pinch collar on your service dog? Is it a helpful tool or a hindrance?”

Leading the Pack in Service Dog Equipment

June 19, 2009 · Posted in Equipment/Supplies, Service Dogs · 1 Comment 

Most service dogs come with the basic equipment that they will need to do their jobs such as a backpack, harness, identification patch, etc. Every service dog agency is different and each agency has a different set of tools and equipment that they provide to each recipient. When I got my first service dog, she came with a backpack that included an identification patch, two bowls, a toothbrush, a nail clipper, and some other assorted items. It reminded me of the items a new mother would receive in a hospital welcome basket.

However, as time goes on and your relationship evolves with your service dog, the need may arise for additional items. For example, my first service dog’s backpack had pockets on each side. The pack was bulky and we would get stuck sometimes going through tight spaces. I looked around for alternative backpacks and was thrilled to find several providers that could accommodate our specific needs.

Over the years, I have turned to such providers as,, and for service dog equipment and accessories. With the internet, service dog team members can find quality equipment that goes beyond the welcome basket of items that they receive when they are first placed with their dog.

As the service and working dog industry grows, service dog recipients will have more volume and higher quality options for their service dog equipment and supply needs. Their dogs can find all types of gadgets and devices that can provide for easier travel, grooming, healthier treats, easier public access, and for an overall higher quality of life and care.