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With the cure for cancer still on the distant horizon, a group of students at MIT has decided to create a digital dog collar. The project was for a MIT Media Lab class in which they were asked to come up with user-friendly computer tools.

Called SNiF (Social Networking in Fur), the collar had many functions. First, onboard sensors would record a dog’s interactions with other dogs equipped with SNiFs (as opposed to other dogs equipped with sniffers).

Further, the owner could press buttons on a leash to tag the interaction as being friendly or unfriendly. These interactions were recorded on a secure web page, where an owner (or perhaps the dog) could look up the dog’s walking and interaction history. A sample history (which, if you had a retriever, might be called a lab report) might look like this:

October 31

Encountered: Rover

Dog Type: Jack Russell

Duration: 3.4 minutes

Tag: Friendly

November 2

Encountered: Patches

Dog Type: Miniature Chihuahua

Duration: 1.2 seconds

Tag: Owner stepped on Patches. Patches no longer in database.

November 3

Encountered: Muffin

Dog Type: Pit Bull

Duration: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Tag: Painful. Stitches coming out on Friday.

November 4

Encountered: Yorks

Dog Type: Yorkie

Duration: 20 minutes

Tag: Bark worse than bite.

November 5

Encountered: Goober

Dog Type: St. Bernard

Duration: 1 minute

Tag: Wet

When out on a walk, the collar would display various light patterns to tell the owner if they were approaching a friendly former acquaintance or a foe. Obviously, this provides an excellent backup system in case your dog’s sense of smell ever fails, his tail falls off, or his bark disappears.

A spokesperson for MIT, Emily Pallamore, was quoted as saying: “The SNiF collar would make it possible for the dogs to get together with their chums without my having to set up an inconvenient and possibly socially awkward play date.” To my mind, this statement brings up several issues:

  1. Given that dogs sniff each other’s patoots by way of greeting, exactly what qualifies as a “socially awkward” play date in the dog world?
  2. Somewhere in the world there are people who, in all seriousness, not only set up play dates for their dogs but worry about the possibility of social awkwardness during same.
  3. Whatever Ms. Pallamore was paid for saying that, in public, with a straight face, it wasn’t enough.

To be fair, in addition to helping you deal with dog socializing stress, the collar had a potentially very useful lost dog function. Assuming your dog was still wearing his collar, you could attempt to track down your pooch by checking what other dogs he’s interacted with since his escape. In this case a sample history might look like this:

November 5

Encountered: Missy

Dog Type: Poodle

Duration: 10 minutes

Tag: Very friendly. Puppies on the way.

November 5

Encountered: Sasha

Dog Type: Poodle

Duration: 10 minutes

Tag: Very friendly. More puppies on the way.

November 5

Encountered: Powderpuff

Dog Type: Poodle

Duration: 10 minutes

Tag: Very friendly. Still more puppies on the way.

Actually this brings up a point: what happens when the dog and the owner disagree about how to judge an encounter? Clearly, your dog would judge interactions with Missy, Sasha, and Powderpuff as being tops, but I’m thinking you’d like to avoid the owners of these dogs – else you’d be looking after the results of all that poodle canoodling.

And just how secure will the collar transmissions and web pages be? Will other dogs be able to dig up dirt on their playmates? Fetch data on who has been seeing who? Will Fifi get hot under the digital collar if Fido doesn’t show any fidelity?

I’m pretty sure she’d have a bone to pick with him. And you know what they say: every dog has it’s day.

 m here does not imply her endorsement or warranty.

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