July 18, 2023

Fear Free Establishes Ground-Breaking AI Standards for Pets

Fear Free, an educational and certification program supporting animal professionals and pet owners alike, recently announced that the company has applied its animal health industry-based guiding principles to set out standards for how next-generation AI products should interact with companion animals. They have also announced that Companion, which provides AI based enrichment for dogs, is the first company to develop their product with these principles.

“The growth of AI will impact every aspect of society and our lives. As the leader of a movement to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety & stress in companion animals, we understand acutely the tremendous potential this innovation has to positively or negatively, impact our pets,” said Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, Founder of Fear Free.

According to Becker, the company’s trailblazing collaboration with Companion marks its first steps in partnering with AI technology developers and other such pioneers. “Our goal,” he said, “is to give pet owners and animal health professionals the confidence that future development and innovation in new pet products will unfold on a foundation of humane and ethical values that actually prevent and decrease fear, stress and anxiety for companion animals, rather than causing them.”

“As a smart device that addresses both the physical and emotional needs of dogs, Companion is the ideal example of a product that is aligned with the goals and mission of Fear Free,” said Fear Free’s new CEO Randy Valpy. “By providing hours of enriching mental and physical challenges each day with AI, the device can use the same technologies to not only understand if an animal has a health issue or anxiety but can also interact with the animal to help solve the latter. Companion is also helping to ensure the animal will experience less stress in other aspects of its life, including outside the home, by enabling features like infinitely-patient noise desensitization.”

Ultimately a pet with reduced fear and anxiety lives a happier – and ideally as a result – healthier, longer life.

The newly established AI principles that the company has laid out stipulate that to adhere to Fear Free principles, products with autonomous or AI based interaction must be:

  • 100 percent opt-in for the animal and positive reinforcement-based
  • Able to detect anxiety throughout any interactions – “positive control”
  • Able to detect environmental changes that could affect the animal’s experience
  • Be designed (e.g., color, sound, smell) so as not to cause stress
  • Not allow for third party control without guardrails to protect the animal

In their engagement with Companion, Fear Free discovered that many of these principles were already present in the Companion product concept and testing, and that it was evident from the beginning of their collaboration that the two organizations were philosophically aligned.

“We are entirely focused on positive reinforcement, 100 percent opt-in for the dog and we’ve incorporated functionality to control the experience because it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the best way to earn a dog’s trust. We’re so excited to have partnered with and be recognized by Fear Free in launching this product. Now we can significantly advance a dog’s daily enrichment, while decreasing its daily fear and stress,” said John Honchariw, Companion Founder.

As with AI itself, Fear Free expects these principles to continue to grow and evolve over time. To address this, plans are underway to entrench opportunities for engagement around AI development, with thought leaders from both the animal health and technology industries across the company’s business practices and growth strategies. From this engagement, Fear Free expects to define Standards that it hopes will be followed throughout the companion animal space.

“Our universal Fear Free Principles are at the heart of everything we do, driving our people, certifications, training, product development and partnerships in animal health, so we were excited at the opportunity to forge ahead, applying them specifically to the new world of AI development. These standards and our Companion collaboration are just the beginning,” Valpy said.

The new Companion AI based product recently announced the first ship date of February 2024 and is available for rolling reservations at Companion.

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