Assistance dogs often do a lot for their owners, but for users with limited mobility it is not always easy -or possible -for them to reward their dog. We investigated potential technological interventions to facilitate bonding between people with tetraplegia and their dogs. Following this initial investigation of the design space, we propose a new treat dispenser system that would address these additional challenges of training and bonding in such partnerships. The system was designed and evaluated via a participatory design process alongside people with tetraplegia and their dogs. We modified our participatory design process for the unique needs of the participants and the presence of multi-species (canine and human) users, thus providing further methodological insights about designing systems that support both canine and human users. Preliminary data showed a positive response to users and their dogs’ ability to use the system we developed.
Using feedback from this initial prototype, we further iterated on the system, and deployed devices with participants to further understand the potential impact such a device could have on on these human-canine partnerships. We found that such an intervention had the capacity to positively impact the lives of individuals with tetraplegia and that there are additional potential opportunities to help similar user groups. Through this work, we aim to further integrate the fields of assistive technology and Canine-Computer Interaction, that have intersecting goals of supporting humans in their daily living tasks, and supporting humans in their relationships with dogs.
In line with efforts to bring about less expensive, more open and customisable assistive technologies, all of the files and instructions necessary to reproduce this device and, importantly, enable the use of multiple inputs, are available online.