Dogs can call their owners by shaking and picking up a new device that allows them to do this. 

Devised at the University of Glasgow, the device, called ‘DogPhone’, is a toy ball containing an accelerometer – a device that detects motion of an object.

An accelerometer can sense movement to initiate a video chat on a laptop. Dogs are able to communicate with their owners even while at work by seeing and hearing them.

Dogs may initially be confused when their owner shakes DogPhone. However, they will soon begin to identify touching the phone with their owner.

Over time, they’ll therefore learn to pick up and shake the ball when they’re missing their owner and want to see them – via the internet at least.

DogPhone is a prototype at the moment. It could address separation anxiety in pets that have become accustomed to having humans around during the coronavirus epidemic.

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DogPhone is a toy ball containing an accelerometer - a device that measures motion of an object. Dogs can learn to pick up and shake the device if they want to see and hear their owner on a computer screen, experts say

DogPhone is an electronic toy ball that contains an accelerometer. This device measures the object’s motion. Experts say that dogs can pick up the accelerometer and move it around to hear and see their owners on a computer screen. 


DogPhone is soft ball that contains an accelerometer. This device detects movement of objects.

DogPhone connects with DogPhone when it touches the dog.

DogPhone also allows humans to use it to contact their dogs. DogPhone rings to alert the dog when they respond.

However, the dog can ‘freely answer or ignore’ the calls by just ignoring them. 

DogPhone was developed by Dr Ilyena HIRSKJ-Douglas, University of Glasgow and colleagues from Aalto University (Finland).

Dr Hirskyj-Douglas is a specialist in animal-computer interaction at the University’s School of Computing Science, and owns a 10-year-old labrador, Zack, who helped with developing and testing the device.

According to her, there are hundreds of Internet-connected smart toys that can be purchased by dog owners for their pet dogs, ranging from fitness monitors and remotely controlled treat dispensers.

The vast majority are made with pet owners in mind and allow for them to communicate with their dog while on the road.

“Very few seem to think about what dogs might desire, or how technology could benefit them as living creatures with thoughts and emotions of their own.

“What I wanted to do was to transform Zack into an “user” with DogPhone, where he can make decisions about where and when he places a call.

DogPhone also allows humans to use it to contact their dogs. DogPhone rings to alert the dog when they respond.

However, the dog can ‘freely answer or ignore’ the calls by just ignoring them.

Zack is pictured here at home holding DogPhone in his mouth, as seen from the live video stream

Zack can be seen here holding DogPhone in the mouth. This is as seen via live streaming.

Dr Hirskyj Douglas began by looking at Zack’s preferred toys to build DogPhone. The possibilities of Zack having a stick, a stuffed or soft toy were all considered. She ultimately decided on a soft ball.

Dr Hirskyj Douglas, a colleague at Aalto University built an internet-connected accelerometer that could be hidden inside the ball.

Zack received 16 practice days with the ball over three months after Zack demonstrated how it could be used for starting a video chat.

Zack received 18 calls during the initial iteration, which took place over two days. The majority of them were unintentional calls made while Zack was sleeping on the ball. It suggests that Zack’s accelerometer system wasn’t sensitive enough.

Zack was awake during several calls. Dr Hirskyj Douglas showed him some of their toys and he approached the screen. This suggested that he wanted interaction with his owner.

Only two calls were received in the second phase, which lasted seven days. This suggests that the accelerometer tuning was not being sensitive enough.

DogPhone was created by Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas at the University of Glasgow, pictured here with Zack

DogPhone was invented by Dr Ilyena Hirsch-Douglas from the University of Glasgow. Zack can be seen here.

The third phase lasted seven more days. The accelerometer tuning was again refined to eliminate accidental calls and allow deliberate calls to be made easier. Zack called 35 times in this period, an average five calls per day.

Although many seemed to be accidental, Dr Hirskyj Douglas and Zack had more important interactions.

Zack saw her entire environment through her mobile phone, including her office and underground station. She also saw a street performer.

Zack was again interested in these interactions and began to prick his ears, approaching the screen.

‘Of course, we can’t know for sure that Zack was aware of the causal link between picking up the ball and making a call, or even that some the interactions which seemed accidental were actually unintended on his part,’ said Dr Hirskyj-Douglas.

Screenshot of online interaction between Dr Hirskyj-Douglas and Zack. DogPhone could empower ¿pandemic pups¿ to stay in touch with their owners

Screenshot showing online communication between Zack and Dr Hirskyj Douglas. DogPhone could empower ‘pandemic pups’ to stay in touch with their owners

‘However, it’s clear that on some occasions he was definitely interested in what he was seeing, and that he displayed some of the same behaviours he shows when we are physically together.

Over the course of the experiments, Dr Hirskyj-Douglas said she became ‘unexpectedly anxious’ when she placed a call to Zack and he wasn’t in front of the camera or he didn’t approach the screen.

‘I hadn’t considered that this might be a consequence of the two-way communication that DogPhone creates, and it’s something to consider for the next iteration of the system,’ she said.

‘Whatever form that takes, we’ve taken another step towards developing some kind of ‘dog internet’, which gives pets more autonomy and control over their interation with technology.’

Dr Hirskyj-Douglas is presenting a research paper on her work at the 2021 ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces Conference in Łódź, Poland, today. 


Dogs will feel severe separation anxiety when lockdown is lifted on corgis that have grown used to being with their owners.

Roger Mugford (an animal psychologist employed by the royals) said that owners must start planning for their pet’s return to routine in order to avoid problems.

The Times spoke with a specialist from Chertsey in Surrey. He explained that even though people work from home dogs can develop a “huge reservoir” of dependence which could lead to their suffering at some point.

If left alone, canines may chew through the home, bark at neighbours, and sometimes self-harm themselves. 

He stated, “Bob your dog with a webcam and you can see the distress signs like howling and pacing.”

To help ease their pet into the freedom of being on their own after the lockdown is over, he suggests owners take 30 minute breaks from them several times per day.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused anxiety in people to rise. It has claimed more than 16,000 lives and infected over 125,000.

Dr Mugford stated that many have relied upon their pets to provide emotional support.    

He stated that pets will experience a shock when the lockdown is lifted and require short, structured training sessions. 

For years the trainer was a support to the royals. In 2002, he helped Princess Anne to train Dotty her dog after Dotty bit two children at Windsor Great Park.

He also went to Windsor Castle, where he helped the Queen with her corgis.    

Doctor Mugford also trains celebrities’ dogs. 

The trainer helped to solve that particular issue, but said the Queen is an ‘amazing dog owner and trainer’, adding that she could have easily done his job in her younger days.

He said, “She is very methodical and follows rule-based procedures.”