We all know the stereotype of the obsessive pet owner. It used to be the person who calls home 14 times a day to check on Fluffy, who buys ridiculous outfits and coordinating collar and leashes for every day of the week, takes the dog to doggy day spas, and who leaves pets a fortune in their wills. That's still over-the-top, but by today's standards it's also completely old-school. There's a new way to be obsessive, and it even has a cool factor attached to it (depending on who you ask, anyway). With our ultra-connected, high-tech culture, there's a niche in the pet industry that is growing at an impressive rate: technology for dogs.
Americans spent $55.72 billion in 2013, and it's expected we'll spend $58.51 billion this year. So it's no surprise that there are a growing number of ever more advanced gadgets for our dogs hitting the market. It is also no surprise that quite a few of these new devices are funded by crowd-sourced funding campaigns — and that they're blowing their funding goals out of the water. We're simply obsessed with our dogs and our technology, and definitely with the combination of the two. So we're taking a closer look at the latest devices to hit the market.
Keeping track of one's daily activity is all the rage right now, and of course that trend has extended to our dogs. Whistle has rapidly become one of the most popular ways to track you dog's activity 24/7. A small device that clips to your dog's collar, it monitors and logs when he is up and about and when he's resting. You can compare your dog's activity to other dogs of similar breed, age and weight, find out how he ranks, and set goals for daily activity to keep him healthy. It also allows multiple owners to check in on the data, so everyone in the family can see what Fido is up to at any time. It comes with a 10-day rechargeable battery and is waterproof. Whistle has even partnered with Jawbone, so you can track your own fitness through UP and compare it to your dog's activity. It'll show you how your dog improves your fitness life, and vice versa. Our own Laura Moss tried Whistle out on her dog. She states, "I like keeping track of how active Maeby is, and the charts/graphs look nice and are easy to read and see how much activity she's done. I feel like it keeps me motivated to take her for more walks and hikes, and the battery alerts it sends to the phone are great. It has fallen off her collar a few times, but that could have been because it didn't snap in just right, which is sometimes a little tricky to do." Whistle retails for $129.95.
Another fitness monitor coming to the market is FitBark. Similar to Whistle, FitBark looks at your dog's activity level, how much time your dog spends at her different energy levels, compares your dog to other dogs of similar breeds to assess energy level, shares data with your vet, and factors in data from your own human fitness tracker. You can see how your dog is doing at any point in the day and when she’s getting in some activity while you’re away at work. It also has an open API so developers can create third-party apps to go along with the FitBark and enhance what you can do with it. You can pre-order now for $69, versus the $99 price tag it’ll have when it hits stores in summer of 2014.
This device started out as a simple GPS device for tracking your dog's whereabouts via your smart phone. However, it's become a bit more than that now. Tagg allows you to see where your dog is -- especially helpful for dogs that tend to be escape artists -- and also tracks activity data. The creators note that this allows owners and vets to be more proactive about a dog's health rather than reactive. If your dog isn't getting enough exercise, or isn't sleeping well, you can change the habits before it leads to health problems. The device also sends you text messages right away if your dog leaves the "Tagg zone" so you know right away if your dog might be on his way to getting lost. It retails for $99.95.
Going a step beyond the usual fitness trackers is Voyce. Not only does Voyce track when and how much your dogs is moving around, but it also tracks vital signs including heart rate and respiratory rate, and even calories burned. All of the information goes into understanding the complete picture of your dog's health, and perhaps helps you catch when your dog is having a health issue, such as heart or respiratory issues, sooner than you otherwise might. Voyce also learns your dog's behavior and will provide you with customized tips, advice and relevant articles to read. Voyce isn't on the market quite yet but you can sign up for notifications for when it will launch. It will retail around $299 for the collar itself, with a $15 monthly subscription fee.
No More Woof
It's one thing to crack into your dog's daily activity levels and another to crack into his very thoughts. That's what a team of Scandinavian researchers are working on. Their device, No More Woof, would translate your dog’s vocalizations and behaviors, so you know why he’s barking at the door or why he won’t stop staring at you. This technology is still very much in the works; the researchers have so far uncovered only brain patterns that translate to, "I'm tired," "I'm excited," possibly "I'm hungry" and "Who ARE you" -- all things you could easily determine without a fancy headset just by looking at your dog. But the more complex thoughts are being worked on and one day we may have a device that lets our dogs talk to us like the dogs in Pixar's "UP". Meanwhile, this is clearly desired by dog owners since the team blew past its fundraising goal of $10,000 in February 2014 when it raised over $22,600! The team plans to ship the first versions of the headset in late May to its indiegogo backers, which give the few translations uncovered so far.
Want your dog to put away all of his toys, without you having to put in much training time? Tidy Box hopes to be your solution. It dispenses a treat every time your dog puts away a toy. The box has a weight sensor as well as software that determines if a toy has actually been put away or if your dog is nosing around looking for a favorite toy. It has a 30-second wait period between dispensing treats, so that your dog can't put a toy in, get a treat, lift the toy out, drop it back in, and get another treat. It also makes it so that a dog who is really fast at cleaning up doesn't get rewarded every time it puts a toy in. Though that might seem unfair at first, it certainly keeps the game interesting for the speedy dog since he doesn't know when a treat is coming. Tidy Dog recently reached its Kickstarter goal of $20,000 in funding, and expects to ship the first batch of techy toy boxes in November of 2014, and they can be pre-ordered for $64.99.
Have you ever wanted to see what your dog is up to while you're at work? Or talk to her? How about play with her? The Petcube allows you to do all three. It is a box that contains a wide-angle HD camera, a microphone and speakers and a pet-safe laser pointer. While you're away, you can watch and hear what she's up to, talk to her through the speakers, and of course, get a game of laser chase going, all through your phone. The goal is to not only stay connected with your pet while you’re gone, but also to get them active while you’re away so they aren’t sleeping the entire time you’re at work. And of course there is a mobile app so you can share photos of your pet going bonkers with the laser pointer or, perhaps, getting into mischief while they think you aren’t looking. It's apparently a well-loved idea since the team reached a jaw-dropping $251,225 raised on its Kickstarter campaign, which had a goal of just $100,000. You can pre-order the device for $199 and it ships August 2014.
Petcube isn't the only device that can keep an eye on your dog. The PetziConnect is a similar device. It can take HD photos and videos of your dog, as well as let you hear and talk to your pet. But instead of using a laser pointer for playing games, it has a treat dispenser so you can give your dog a surprise every so often during the day. Not quite as conducive to a healthy dog, but an interesting choice if your dog doesn't care about laser pointers. Another difference is that it plugs directly into a wall socket, so you can't place it as strategically as you might like. However, like the Petcube, PetziConnet was a hit with backers in its fundraising campaign, raising nearly $50,000 over its goal of $30,000. You can pre-order the device for $169.99, and units are expected to ship in late spring of this year.
PetHub Digital Pet ID Tags
Even the good old dog ID tag has gotten a techy upgrade. The PetHub provides a QR code embedded in the back of your dog's ID tag which, when scanned by someone's phone, pulls up all your dog's important information. Not only that, but you're instantly alerted to when someone scans the tag, so you know Fido has been found (or perhaps taken) by someone. The QR code basically acts as an external microchip whose data anyone can access if they know what a QR code is and what to do with it. Unlike a microchip, you don't need to take the pet to a shelter or vet's office to scan and find an owner's information. However, unlike a microchip, if the collar or tag falls off while Fido is lost, then you're out of luck. Still, it's an interesting concept for putting more information about your dog on a tiny tag via QR code. Tags are $20, personalized tags are $25, and you can get a collar with a QR code for $40.
If you have a smaller dog who needs more entertainment and exercise while indoors, and you don't want to be stuck repeatedly throwing a ball for hours, then iFetch is for you. The small, round device lets your dog play fetch on his own. The dog drops a mini tennis ball into the device, and it launches it for an endless game of fetch. iFetch has three settings for distance -- 10, 20 or 30 feet -- so it works for any sized room or home. It runs on either battery power or a wall socket so you can place it anywhere, and it also powers on any time a ball is dropped into the launcher so your dog can start up a game whenever he wants. Some dogs know how to do this without a fancy gadget, but some dogs need an ever-launching friend. If your dog is the latter, then the iFetch sells for $99.
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