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Background

Creating technological solutions to facilitate human-animal interaction offers opportunities to explore both for academics as well as companies creating products for the market. Indeed, there is an exploding number of solutions on the market, for example, for dogs, which may address the human-animal interaction, but which have relatively little evidence on the impacts of the solutions.

Are the solutions facilitating the human owners bond to the animal, calming the owner’s conscience while away, or are they facilitating the mutual bond and positive emotions of both the human and the animal? How do the animals perceive and experience the solutions in addition to humans? What kind of solutions can enhance the well-being of both the human and the animal, facilitate and deepen the bonding, and create positive emotions for both?

When creating new technological solutions to facilitate and expand human-animal interaction and bonding, we need to explore and understand what are the elements and characteristics of human-animal interaction and bonding, what cognitive, affective, and social aspects are involved, and how both the human and the animal experience the solutions.

Dogs are loved family members and companions (Dotson and Hyatt, 2008). Pet owners have strong interest in understanding their pets emotions (Lawson et al. 2015). According to Mancini (2011), Animal-computer interaction (ACI) aims to, among other things, “foster the relationship between humans and animals by enabling communication and promoting understanding between them; technology that allows companion animals to play entertaining games with their guardians or enables guardians to understand and respond to the emotions of their companion animals might be consistent with this aim”. However, the role of the technology should be to support the human-animal interactions but not to replace human interpretation and direct observation (Nelson and Shih, 2017). Substituting human interpretation may undermine or even harm human-animal relationship (Lawson et al. 2015). In the future, technology could deepen the relationship by opening the dog’s world to the human, e.g., by visualizing the invisible scent-universe to the owner (Aspling et al. 2015). It is thus important to consider how technology may best serve in establishing and deepening the emotional and social bonding between the animal and the human.

Using playful technology together (Pons et al. 2015) or even simply observing the animals use the technology (Webber et al. 2017) can enhance the emotional relationship between people and animals. Technology may also enable remote communication, e.g. via Skype, to support long distance social interactions (Rossi et al. 2016). Technology may also help in the early bonding with new pets. For example, Alcaidinho et al. (2015) gave a Whistle activity monitoring device for people who wanted to adopt a shelter dog. The participants of this study felt that the device helped in understanding the dog’s needs, encouraged them to spend more active time with it and facilitated bonding with the dog.

Touch is important for both animals and humans. Lee et al. (2006) experimented with wearable computing for remote human-poultry interaction. In their pioneering system, the human could stroke a chicken doll, with embedded touch sensors that transferred the movements to the real animal via a wearable haptic vest. Results from an experiment showed that people enjoyed being able to remotely touch the animals and the system seemed to be pleasurable for the pet, too. Cheklin et al. (2016) extended the idea to dogs; they propose that working humans could remotely play with rescued dogs and nurture them via haptic vest. This kind of interaction could help both parties, by easing the stress of a worker as well as the rescued dog. Remote touching of animals would enable pet nurturing also for people with allergies (Lee et al. 2006).

Dogs share many of the socio-cognitive skills with humans (e.g. Topál et al. 2009). Attachment bond between pet dogs and their owners resembles relationship with their conspecifics (Payne et al 2002). However, we lack a comprehensive understanding of how dogs experience their life with us. Human-animal interaction (HAI) has been shown to have positive influence in human health and well-being (Serpell 1991, Virués-Ortega and Buela-Casal 2006). For example, the affiliative interaction of humans and dogs (e.g. owner petting the dog) lowers cortisol levels and increase oxytocin and dopamine levels in both species (Odendaal and Meintjes, 2003; Handlin et al., 2011; Nagasawa et al., 2015).

Generally people agree that domestic animals such as dogs experience emotions (Morris et al. 2008), but the existence of emotions in dogs and perception of dog emotions by the caretakers are separate issues (Kujala 2017). The emotional expressions of dogs and their responses to human emotional signals could have evolved during domestication and have adaptive significance (Merola et al. 2012, Waller et al. 2013, Somppi et al. 2016). However, subtle changes in dog’s behavior related to their affective states can be difficult to notice. Nonverbal dogs cannot be requested how are they feeling, for example whether they have pain. Human attention is generally drawn to the facial expressions of dogs, although emotions are visible in dog’s whole body (Quinn et al. 2009). Humans recognize friendly behavior/ happiness of a dog most easily, but other emotions such as aggression and fear are more difficult to identify (Tami et al. 2009).

How are these aspects and what else is connected to designing technology aiming to facilitate and expand the human-dog, or more generally, human-animal, interactions and bonding?