In June, I wrote about Sproutling, a smart anklet designed for infants, in the first part of a series looking at how wearable technology is making more and more inroads into daily life. In this article, we explore Whistle, the “Fitbit for dogs.”
In the United States alone, people will spend more than US $60 billion dollars on pets in 2015, according to the American Pet Products Association. Given that pet owners spend so much money, a dog wearable should come as no surprise. Skeptics may be quick to dismiss spending nearly $100 on such a wearable, but up until now, unless you’re a dog whisperer, much of pet care has been guesswork, with issues mostly identified in hindsight.
For example, if Atlanta dog owner Diana Abrego had acted immediately on what Whistle was telling her, it might have saved her from a messy cleanup. Abrego was running errands one weekend last spring when an alert popped up on her smartphone: Her 3-month-old puppy, Sara, which she and her husband had adopted a month before from a shelter, had reached her “daily activity goal.”
Sara, a hound-and-retriever mix, was wearing Whistle, a round, metallic waterproof tag about the circumference of a silver dollar, on her collar. The Whistle tracks how much a dog plays, runs, and rests each day using a 3-axis accelerometer. Whistle’s algorithms have been designed to detect the difference between running, active playing, and resting. (The battery needs recharging about once a week.)
That activity data is sent to a smartphone app via either a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. The app calculates how much exercise a dog should get each day, based on its breed, age, and size, and it also allows owners to track medication and log meals. In Abrego’s case, the alert indicated that Sara had reached her target of 60 minutes of activity for the day. In fact, the app showed that she had exceeded it by 30 minutes.
Sure enough, when Abrego returned home, it was clear how her puppy had gotten her exercise. “From the moment we left her until 5 minutes before we returned home, she had been running around nonstop,” Abrego recalls. The puppy had torn apart her pee pad and then urinated on top of the shredded bits. She had also ripped apart her bed. “It was a mess.”
Abrego laughs about the incident now, but it shows how a wearable device can remotely monitor the well-being of a dog and alert owners to problems. In another instance, an owner was able to intervene and take her dog to the veterinarian after the Whistle showed that her dog was unusually sluggish. It turned out the dog had been bitten by a snake. Whistle’s uses have also been extended to veterinary schools and pharmaceutical companies. In a partnership with North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the Whistle is helping researchers track canine epilepsy, monitoring dogs before, during, and after a seizure.
The accumulation of data on the dog’s daily routine offers better clues for understanding it, says Whistle Labs’ CEO, Ben Jacobs: “We’re using technology to provide a voice for these animals,” he says.
In January, the San Francisco startup also acquired Tagg, a wearable that uses cellular and GPS technology to track a dog’s whereabouts. Dog owners establish a “home base” for the dog, and if the dog wanders away, they’re alerted via a text message or e-mail and can use a map to pinpoint their dog’s location.
As for cats, Whistle Labs has contemplated developing a similar tracker—company cofounder Kevin Lloyd is actually a cat person—but it has not yet come up with a suitable design. Somehow it seems appropriate that felines may be the last resistors in our march toward an always connected, wearable world.
This article originally appeared in print as “Dog’s Best Friend?”
About the Author
Ellen Lee is a business and technology journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is her second article in a series looking at wearable devices that are finding their way into different facets of daily life. While Lee says she loves discovering the innovation in wearables, she does “worry about how the data collected will be used and monitored. What happens if my entire life can be tracked through the various wearables I’ve worn?”