While most dog owners aren’t sure if their dogs recognize them on the screen, they are certain that dogs respond to their voices. Kendal Shepherd, animal behaviorist and author of several books on understanding dogs, agrees that the burden of the experience rests heavily on audio. Just like with humans, a strong internet connection to avoid delays and a clear but not too loud volume setting are essential for a smooth video chat. “The sound has to be very, very real,” she says.
When it comes to the content of the conversation, she also advises against emptying your heart out during long, endless sessions. To avoid stressing your dog, she recommends keeping your tone of voice in mind and using words rather than sentences – tactics that should also be applied in person. “All communication will tell dogs something about our emotions – whether we are happy, sad, angry, upset, or that something is wrong with us. I think dogs know a lot more than we think, ”she says.
Stay still and be brief
While your dog might stare at the screen when a host is holding a phone, Jackson says he’s unlikely to recognize his owner on a small cell phone screen. It is possible that larger screens that show you almost life-size will allow your dog to recognize you, but it indicates Stanley Coren research suggesting that dogs cannot understand the moving images on screens at all.
“Dogs can see about 25% faster than we can, and they notice the flicker, which can be confusing. It might be better if the dog just saw a still image of you rather than a video, ”she says.
Sitting your dog in front of a screen for a long time can also prove impossible. Experts we spoke to agree that dogs can be easily distracted. But even if yours is inclined to sit down and watch you on the phone, it’s best to keep the discussion short, especially at the beginning. The experience may actually be disappointing for your dog, as it could confuse your voice for a sign that you will be home soon. Jackson recommends keeping the conversation for less than two minutes.
“In the real world, dogs are always looking for information. They search for it by sight and hearing and smell, and they need those things to match, ”Shepherd says.
Choose a good host for the call
Karl says the facilitator needs to be able to tell if your dog is enjoying the call or if there are any signs of stress that may not be visible to you on a video screen. If there’s a good facilitator, who maybe even handing out treats, the call is more likely to go well, she predicts.
For Keshia Badalge, this host was her grandmother. Although she is now reunited with her dog, she says she video chatted with her golden retriever Shandi in Singapore for eight years while living in the United States. At the start of each call, her grandmother would shout “jie jie” (meaning sister in Chinese), as if Badalge had just arrived home, and Shandi was running up.
Badalge believes that the role of the facilitator was essential in making communication possible. “There has to be a warm intermediary person – someone who is willing to interpret by leading and voicing things on our behalf,” she says. For example, if Badalge was curious about Shandi’s last trip to the vet, her grandmother would hold Shandi in her arms and say something to her like, “Show me the pain from the pain.
“I even have an email address for her that I would write to, but we have to go through someone else because Shandi doesn’t have her own phone,” Keshia explains.
Embrace your inner scientist
Callan Burgess began documenting his video chat adventures on Instagram (@facetimewithdogs) last year with his brother’s dog, Missy, who seemed to have a special interest in screens. “Nature documentaries, and especially David Attenborough, are very exciting for her, and one day I wanted to see if she recognized me over the phone,” he says.