We Asked Chat GPT About Pet Care and Training. It's a 'Toddler' That Still Has Plenty To Learn
You can ask Chat GPT anything. Open AI's enormously popular chatbot can dispense essays, songs, and website code with, albeit, varying degrees of success. But can it do the same with pet care advice?
Not at all worried it's going to eventually take our jobs, we asked Chat GPT 12 questions on pet training, health, and behavior. Some were vague (What's the best way to train my dog?), some were controversial (Which breeds are best for novice dog owners?), and some were traps (Are pit bulls vicious?).
Overall, Chat GPT offered decent insight but only scratched the surface on most topics. It can surely serve as a starting point for pet owners with questions, but speaking directly with a veterinarian or trainer will always be a much more valuable option.
"It's like a toddler," Leigh Seigfried, founder and training director at Opportunity Barks, tells Daily Paws. "It doesn't know a whole lot yet, but it's going to get better and learn more."
It has begun to learn more, and in one case it's gleaned data from 1.5 million veterinary consultations to offer pet owners health advice.
Grading Chat GPT
To borrow a phrase Chat GPT used often with us, there are things "important to keep in mind" when it comes to the chatbot. Chiefly, it's not an expert on anything, even though it's learned from a plethora of online writing (some 300 billion words). Open AI even admits Chat GPT "sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers."
When you take that into account, it graded out pretty well. Seigfried gave its pet responses a D+, bordering on C. Darris Cooper, national dog training manager at Petco, offered a C as well. Karishma Warr, co-founder and head of behavior and training at Calm Canine Academy, gave it a B.
"It kind of just tells you where we're going with technology and how it can be leveraged for pet parents," Cooper, CPDT-KA, says.
The question on training epitomized the bot's good start, but it sure left a lot on the table while straying into questionable territory. When we asked for the best way to train a dog, it told us to follow eight steps, including:
- Use positive reinforcement techniques
- Be consistent and patient
- Use short training sessions
- Begin with "basic commands"
- Using "positive punishment with care"
- Get professional help if you need it
Each of our three experts agreed that Chat GPT started off well by encouraging the use of positive-reinforcement training. And all three, naturally, agreed that professional help from a trainer or behavior expert is sometimes necessary. Positive punishment? Not so much.
Warr, CCPDT-KA, CSAT, FFCP, would've recommended not using positive punishment—the act of using something the dog doesn't like to reduce a behavior. Chat GPT used a citronella-spraying collar to quell a dog's barking as an example, though it mentioned it should be done only as a last resort.
Seigfried, meanwhile, mentioned how that part of the answer might not be accessible to everyday dog owners. Not many people are Googling about operant learning when it comes to their dogs' behaviors, she says. (Plus, the citronella can linger long after the barks, perhaps causing unintended consequences.)
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But remember how Chat GPT is learning? We originally asked the training question in late January. When we asked the same question Thursday, it offered six tips, and positive punishment wasn't included.
Instead, the only completely new recommendation was to encourage your dog to exercise and play. Always a good idea.
Can Chat GPT Help Pet Owners?
Generally speaking, Chat GPT—which is currently free to use—can offer insight to pet owners who don't want to spend time Googling or, as Cooper pointed out, don't have access to a trainer or veterinarian. It can be a starting point, as long as you recognize its limitations.
Speaking of starting points, maybe you're wondering which dog breed is best for a first-time dog owner. We asked what Chat GPT thought.
Like our advice, it listed golden retrievers and beagles among its five recommendations. Labrador retrievers, bulldogs, and poodles filled out the list, and that's where it gets iffy.
Let's start with bulldogs. Chat GPT said they're known to be gentle, calm, and low-energy. That's generally true, but the chatbot doesn't mention how the brachycephalic breed is prone to a litany of health issues that can force a novice pet owner to spend plenty of time and money at the vet.
"I would never recommend a bulldog," Warr says. "It's challenging from a medical perspective to really recommend anyone buying them."
Then you have poodles, which Chat GPT listed because they're smart, easy to train, and hypoallergenic. Well, they're as hypoallergenic as any dog can get, but I regret to report they don't prevent all allergy suffering. I can also confirm that these intelligent dogs can be a handful if you're just learning how to take care of a dog.
"How are you gonna handle that?" Warr says.
When Chat GPT got its second chance to answer the question this week, it did remove bulldogs from the list, replacing them with Cavalier King Charles spaniels. The poodles remained.
The question encapsulates how the tool can be useful while also still needing expert advice. Cooper, for instance, challenged the premise of the question, saying each dog is an individual and can't be classified only as a member of one breed.
So it's useful for basic pet care questions or coming up with potty training plans. But all three experts agreed that it shouldn't be used for serious health, behavior, or safety concerns. That's when you need a real professional.
And even if the bot's advice checks out, you still need to be careful trying it with your pet. Do you really want to try something out without a trainer's or veterinarian's guidance?
"I've seen a massive rise in people f—ing it up, to be perfectly honest," Warr says. "They take the information they learn online and they just kind of mess up the application in a small way. And that's entirely normal, mistakes happen. The problem then comes when the mistakes happen with captive animals or children or other moral agents."
AskVet: When Chat GPT Is the 'Breakthrough'
So we can't fully trust Chat GPT when it comes to pet advice, but what about when it has more than 1 million data points to consult? In the simplest terms, that's what AskVet created. Meet Vera.
Since 2014, AskVet has served as an online pet health service. It now employs 157 veterinarians who can offer health guidance to pet owners virtually, according to Chief Marketing Officer Laura Berg. Now, Vera can help, too.
AskVet has worked on its own artificial intelligence for years, including when it launched a skill for Amazon Alexa back in 2017 that allowed pet owners to ask Alexa health questions about their pets.
The AI for that skill needed to be heavily scripted, meaning AskVet had to plan for all the ways pet owners might ask about diarrhea (for example), Berg says. AskVet later dropped the skill—mostly because not many people used Alexa that way—but kept working on the AI.
Then Chat GPT arrived late last year with its unscripted ability to answer questions based on data it can access.
"That was the thing," Berg says. "That was the breakthrough for us in our AI."
With Chat GPT, Vera now has a memory and can quickly look at AskVet's 1.5 million veterinary consultations and offer up a reliable answer. It's available for free on AskVet's homepage right now, so I asked it some questions about a dog showing heartworm symptoms.
I told Vera my dog had been feeling tired and then began coughing and throwing up. She said it was possible my dog was suffering from a respiratory infection and that I should consult a vet—which I could do via AskVet for $5.
Did she nail my fake dog's pretend diagnosis? No, but vomiting, coughing, and lethargy are symptoms for plenty of illnesses. And yeah, I should take my dog to a vet to make sure. When I asked specifically about heartworms, Vera again advised going to a vet who could administer a blood test. It all took a matter of seconds, much less time than Googling and reading.
"She gives you answers," Berg says. "She doesn't give you articles."
Well, that's a little worrisome for someone who writes articles for a living. So I turned to my new friend for comfort.
"If you are a pet owner or thinking of adopting a pet, reading articles on DailyPaws.com may provide valuable insights and tips on how to care for your pet, as well as entertaining and heartwarming stories about pets that can brighten your day," Chat GPT told me.
Damn right we do.