Would You Let A Robot Train Your Dog?
Companion has developed an AI device that might change how we train our pets, whether we’re there for it or not.
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Most dog owners would love to have their pets on a more expansive training regimen. They want all the best for their pups, but daily teaching exercises take time that not everyone has the luxury to spare. Just as the microwave freed us from hours in the kitchen, Companion developed a device that’ll cover the time and energy needed to give your dog all the proper training it deserves.
“We basically want to give you superpowers with all of the behaviors that make living with your loved one as safe, convenient, and fun as possible,” says Companion founder and CEO John Honchariw. The company has created an AI device that automatically trains and engages with your dog whether you’re home or not. It analyzes behavior in real-time and adapts to each animal’s specific needs. “We call it training, but what we’re really focused on is improving the consistency and responsiveness of all of the commands and communications that make up what people generally refer to as the human-animal bond, or at least a subset of it.”
While this may seem like something you’d see on a Star Trek episode, the inspiration behind Companion is simply wholesome curiosity. It grew out of a childhood fascination with better understanding our favorite four-legged animals. Honchariw says he started the company with a “personal passion for understanding animals, deep empathy for animals, and love for automation” — a passion that soon turned to profits. Companion recently enjoyed a total of eight million dollars in investments from industry leaders including Mars, Central Garden, and Pet and Michelson Found Animals — demonstrating the intrigue and confidence many in pet care have for the concept of an artificial dog trainer.
For those fearful of a Skynet-esque robot revolution, be at ease — the tech is only a portion of the device. In fact, Companion has a roster of professional trainers on hand that they’ll connect you with via its accompanying app. Led by a team of advisors including Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, Founder of Fear Free; Erica Feuerbacher, Assistant Professor of Companion Animal Behavior and Welfare at Virginia Tech; and Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training — the company aims to provide the most up-to-date and innovative expertise and research. Beginning with a personalized guided onboarding, your coach will be available to you along the way to ensure your dog has all the learning tools they need. The app also tracks their development, allowing you to see progress in real-time.
“The unfair advantage that devices generally have is that they are perfectly consistent and they’re infinitely patient. So they think nothing of helping you with 10,000 practices of ‘sit’ over the first six to nine months to really get that behavior going,” Honchariw explains. “And the coach is really there to help you generalize that behavior, to help transfer the behavior from the machine to you and give you fun exercises to really build up that muscle.”
Crucially, Companion emphasizes all training is done only through positive reinforcement. The device will provide a treat for your pup when they execute a desired action and withhold them while they learn. According to Honchariw, it’s all about what’s best for the animal. “We are squarely in the camp of positive reinforcement only because we do think consistency is kindness.”
While the official release date has not yet been announced, Honchariw believes that training is only the beginning of the Companion technology’s usage. “Over the next five, 10, 20 years, I would love for this new class of device to help us far more deeply understand all the animals around us,” he says. “But also use that same technology to help us better understand the natural world.” In the meantime, you can sign up for Companion’s newsletter for early enrollment of your pet, exclusive content from expert coaches, and first dibs on the device as soon as it becomes available.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and has behavioral issues rival his own.