4 Ways Drones Are Helping Dogs

How the coolest toys in tech are helping pet parents and animal advocates alike.
By: John Gilpatrick
Drones helping dogs

What was once advanced military technology has now become coolest tech toy on the market—yes, it seems like we blinked and drones took over the world.

Eric Adams, a tech writer and drone expert, says commercial drones have been available since the early 2000s, but it’s only been in the last five years that they’ve truly taken off.

“Back then, they were barely controllable and offered little automation or internal stability,” he says. “Now, they’ve become much easier to fly, and the image-quality from the on-board cameras has skyrocketed.”

As with nearly every industry looking to climb aboard the drone movement, both dog owners and those who work with dogs are finding new and creative ways to utilize this rapidly improving technology to make the lives of their canine friends better.

Drones Are Taking Awesome Photos

Adams says photography and videography remains the most common consumer application for drones. However, a few hurdles remain before you can become America’s Next Top Drone Pet Photographer. First, Adams cautions that drones are not easy to fly. “People buy them and immediately start crashing them into trees,” he says.

Start with an entry-level drone while you learn how to control and navigate the device. Once you’re able to fly it smoothly and get it where you want, you’ll be ready to upgrade to a proper quadcopter with a high-definition video camera.

Most importantly, make sure you take time to get your dog comfortable around the drone. After all, it’s a big, loud flying machine that she’s probably never seen before, and she might not be ready for grandly-staged photo or video shoots right out of the gate.

Adams recommends acclimating your dog to a drone by taking simple, static, overhead shots from about 15 or 20 feet in the air. This will give the dog enough distance from the drone so as not to freak her out, while allowing you to set the drone to hover and maybe play fetch with your dog to get some fun pictures of her in action.

Drones Are Finding Missing Pets

While drones still not as effective as tried-and-true methods of finding a lost dog (think: social media posts, neighborhood flyers), they can be valuable in certain situations, says Kat Albrecht, founder of the Missing Pet Partnership.

Drone technology helping dogs

“Drones are an excellent technique in cases where a dog is lost in an open area where there are minimal trees or foliage that would offer concealment,” Albrecht says.

“We highly recommend drones in cases where dogs are missing in a desert area, flat agricultural area, or other such cases where many acres can be searched from above.”

Albrecht adds that the number of professional and volunteer searchers using drones is increasing fast. That said, while they may be helpful in some canine cases, it’s a mixed bag for other animals.

Horses, Albrecht says, can often be found via drones no matter the terrain because of their size. Cats, on the other hand, tend to hide in one secure place when they’re lost outside, so drones in these cases are fairly useless.

Drones Are Tracking and Helping Strays

In 2015, the World Animal Awareness Society was given permission by the city of Houston to film a television series about the city’s stray dog problem. Tom McPhee, executive director of organization, said in an article in USA Today that the first step in filming was to use a fleet of drones and GPS technology, along with a team of volunteer rescuers on the ground, to encircle the city from overhead and capture footage to measure the scope of the city’s problem.

Estimates of Houston’s strays at the time were varied but ran as high as 1.2 million animals. No data has been released for 2016 or 2017, but organization says it will be conducting an up-to-date survey and releasing their data this year.

In the mean time, they’ve released many episodes of “Operation Houston: Stray Dog City,” in which volunteers feed and seek medical care for Houston strays with the goal of eventually finding homes for as many as they can.

Drones Are Delivering Packages

Amazon garnered massive interest in late 2013 when it announced that drone delivery service was on its way. Though we’re still waiting for it to truly expand (Adams says there are numerous technological and regulatory hurdles to overcome before that happens) it does promise to change the dynamics of an age-old rivalry — the one between your dog and the delivery man — for good.

Dr. Kristina Spaulding, a certified applied animal behaviorist and owner of Smart Dog Training and Behavior LLC, says the dogs barking and chasing delivery men is more than just a media and pop culture myth.

“Many dogs have issues with strangers in general,” Spaulding says. “The thing about mail carriers is that they come to the door, the dog barks like crazy, and then they go away.”

Spaulding says this strongly reinforces the barking because the dog gets her desired result, stranger leaving, so she will be more likely to repeat that behavior on future encounters.

Drones replacing at least some of these deliveries might make your dog’s day just a little less stressful. Of course, Spaulding says the drone, unfamiliar as they probably are, could produce a similar reaction, but because they promise to be quieter, it stands to reason they’ll continue advancing to the point your dog hardly notices them dropping off her favorite treats.