Natalie and Cody Gantz / Whistle
Is your dog a tad chubby and short on exercise? Want to find out if your pup is itchier than usual or seems dehydrated? New, activity-tracking pet technology, similar to gadgets made for humans, is giving pet owners a deep dive into the health and well-being of their furry family members.
These wearable devices can track a dog's location, even if Rover jumps in the lake, and can help you pinpoint Fluffy's calorie count or track her steps, just like the Fitbits and other activity trackers many pet owners use for themselves.
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Ken Irwin, 63, became a believer after his German shepherd, Rearden, escaped the yard while in hot pursuit of a deer. Irwin and his wife searched around their 16-acre property outside Atlanta by car and eventually found Rearden, but Irwin wanted to ensure his pet would never go missing again. “You really get religion when that happens,” he says.
Soon after, an ad for Whistle, a location tracker for pets, flashed across his computer screen. Five years and several upgraded versions later, Irwin has become an ardent evangelist of pet-tracking technology.
Good for dogs and owners
Canine-friendly wearable technologies can do more than just locate. They monitor activity in dogs, including exercise, but also things like licking, scratching and how much water they drink. These data points are often presented through a smartphone app with a user-friendly dashboard that in some cases lets owners compare achievements, canine versus canine, to see which pup achieves the most daily steps.
And they're not just good for dogs. A study by the University of Haifa found that dog activity trackers have a positive impact not only on the animal's physical and mental health, but on their humans, too. Researchers found these devices increase owners’ motivation to boost their own physical activity with their canines while reinforcing the human-dog bond and gaining a better awareness of pets’ needs.
For Irwin, that understanding has morphed from knowing his dogs are within the confines of his yard to getting useful health alerts that let him know it might be time to visit a vet. The scratching and licking features have been especially handy for his giant, long-haired shepherds. When Irwin noticed an exponential rise in his scratching for his younger dog, Dominique Francon, compared to Reardon's, he knew something was up. “She had a hot spot and I didn't even realize it,” he says.
Some friendly dog competition
Since Whistle debuted in 2012, a slew of pet health trackers — with and without GPS — have entered the market, driving down prices and adding features. FitBark 2 can monitor a dog's daily activity and sleep, alerting owners to potential mobility, anxiety and skin issues. PitPat can provide personalized exercise recommendations and lets owners who connect on the app compare their pets’ daily exercise tallies.
Retired physical education teacher Martha Hanna, 68, of Roanoke, Virginia, got her first human activity tracker in August 2014 and liked it so much she bought one for her husband for Christmas that year. As soon as she found out there was similar technology for dogs, she was sold.
Hanna bought one FitBark for each of her mini schnauzers, Jack and Eddie, both 9 years old, and then another for Rocky, a standard schnauzer, who just turned 2. Hanna and her husband track everyone's steps on their five- to eight-mile morning walks and compare their dogs’ activity levels with other FitBark wearers on #FitBarkDogsofInstagram. “We like to see if we're coming out on top,” she says.
Hanna says the goals they've set for their dogs motivate the couple to walk more than their own health trackers do. And it's become another fun way to engage with their pets. “There's definitely competition in it — of course, the dogs don't know it,” says Hanna. “We'll tell them, ‘Your brother is beating you today,’ but they don't really know or care."
Other Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy and Safe
1. Protect your dog in the summer heat
Small measures can keep dogs cool and prevent them from overheating. Keep your dog hydrated by carrying water with you, walk during the cooler parts of the day, and never leave a dog in a hot car.
2. Preventing pet and human separation anxiety when you go back to work
If you're heading back to the office after spending a long time working from home and bonding with your dog, make sure to help your pup adjust. Leave interesting toys to play with, have a friend or neighbor check on your dog while you're away, and consider a video monitor to ease your own transition.
3. Preventing coronavirus in dogs
A small number of dogs and cats have tested positive for coronavirus after being in close contact with humans with COVID-19. Physical distancing and other measures can help.
4. How author Gail Sheehy's beloved dog helped her during the pandemic
The late author of 17 books said her Cavalier King Charles spaniel Chollie made the difference for her during quarantine.