iPad pooches: Tablet training goes to the dogs

School for the Dogs' iPad-training classes are catching on as a novel way for humans to bond with their dogs, despite having to clean slobber off touch screens.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read
Dog using iPhone
Anna Jane Grossman teaches Bandit how to do a self-portrait using an iPhone. Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

About a year ago, Anna Jane Grossman and Kate Senisi started to do something they admit is "kind of silly." The co-owners of dog-training academy School for the Dogs in Manhattan started to train their canine clients to use iPads. Until then, felines pretty much had the four-legged iPad-user market cornered.

School for the Dogs now offers iDog clinics periodically. The classes are small, consisting of up to four owners and dogs at a time. While it would delightful to teach your dog to compose e-mails via dictation and do your online banking on your iPad, the classes are geared for more basic tablet skills.

It all starts with a touch. A nose touch, to be exact. "We teach them to touch their nose to a hand, and then we usually move on to an object, like the end of a baton or fly swatter. It's a good exercise in helping owners develop their training skills," Grossman said. If a dog can reliably touch an object, then that object can be an iPad, and that touch can trigger a command in an app.

Cat owners have plenty of feline-specific apps to choose from. Dog owners aren't so fortunate, so School for the Dogs has identified several apps that work great for dogs and can be activated by a nose nudge. Grossman recommends YesNo, Big Camera Button, and Doodle Buddy.

Dog selfies
These dog selfies were captured by School for the Dogs students. School for the Dogs

What went from sounding like a joke is now being taken seriously as a training tool. Grossman has seen an uptick in interest for the classes, which cost $50 for a 60-minute lesson.

"I think people are starting to see the iPad classes stuff less as a novelty and more as something that actually can be a step toward developing other kinds of training skills," Grossman said. "If you can teach a dog to nose your iPad on cue, you are developing skills that you could use to teach more important 'tricks,' like not jumping, or staying close to your side in a crowded area."

Grossman notes that her New York clients often don't have the space to play fetch with their pup. They are also constantly using their portable devices and not interacting with their dogs while doing so.

"A lot of the issues that we deal with here stem from dogs just not having enough to do," she said. "I think that helping them engage their dogs with the devices might actually benefit the dog-human relationship that exists outside of the digital realm."

Dogs aren't just limited to using iPads. Grossman has worked with iPhones and iPod Touches. Dogs are operating system-agnostic, so Android devices are fair game as well. "I also had a client who wanted to teach her dog to shut her laptop with her nose," Grossman said.

Working with dogs and electronics does have some inherent hazards. "I'm constantly wiping slobber and peanut butter off of my devices' screens," Grossman said. That's a small price to pay for building the bonds between people and their pooches.