Technology manufacturer Garmin recently announced a new training device, the Delta Smart, which allows a dog owner to control an e-collar through a smartphone app.
We believe this device has the potential to cause harm to dogs and should not be recommended by behavior consultants, trainers, or used by members of the public. This is because both Bluetooth and smartphones have the potential to introduce excessive latency. Latency is the delay between inputting something into a system, and the system’s output.
Bluetooth is a packet-based transmission protocol, which is designed for data transfer, not for time-sensitive operation. The difficulties of time-sensitive operation are manifold, but they essentially stem from the fact that data packets may get lost in transmission and require retransmission. The receiver can decide a packet is lost only if it hasn’t received it after a certain amount of time, at which point it must ask for a retransmission and hope for the best. This waiting around introduces an uncertainty in the time it takes for a message to be delivered (or, in this case, a “shock” operation to be interpreted by the collar).
This means that sometimes the message might get delivered right away, sometimes it might take more time, and sometimes it may not get there at all.
In areas of high interference, latency can vary up to the hundreds of milliseconds. Bluetooth uses the same spectrum as the overwhelming majority of WiFi equipment, and high degrees of Bluetooth packet loss have been observed in WiFi-congested areas. This means there is a higher chance of delay between the phone sending its signal and the collar receiving it, or of signals being missed entirely.
High latency translates to poor communication between dog and handler. Latency is also an issue with Internet-connected treat dispensers intended for positive reinforcement. We suggest only using these devices to train duration behaviors, which don’t usually call for a high level of precision in the timing of reinforcer delivery.