A half-century ago, dogs lived in barns or backyards, domiciled in shabby little doghouses. Now, they have the run of our houses and apartments. They sleep in our beds. In some cases, they are considered by their owners to be like children and, possibly, a bit cleaner.
So it is not so strange that the connected technologies that are creeping into the lives of humans are doing the same for pets.
Wearable pet activity trackers keep tabs on Bella’s or Bear’s exercise. Some go further, monitoring dogs’ heart and respiratory rates and tracking locations in case they escape their homes. Webcams allow people who are away from home to monitor, communicate and play games with their pets, breaking up the monotony of lonely days.
What is making all these devices possible is an abundance of increasingly inexpensive miniature components created for the smartphone business: wireless chips, motion sensors and high-resolution camera lenses that can be jammed into pet-friendly devices.
Smartphone apps, meanwhile, are giving people a way to visualise the biometric data these devices collect and to snoop on pet behaviour from anywhere with a wireless connection.
These device manufacturers are chasing the growing pile of money people are lavishing on animals. The total annual spending on pets in the US, including food, veterinary care and medicine, more than tripled over the past two decades to $55.5 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
The tighter bond between household animals and the people formerly known as owners has established pet wellness as a
serious business, and tech firms are taking note.
“It is the idea of being able to interact with your pet in a more meaningful way,” said Con Slobodchikoff, an emeritus professor
of biology at Northern Arizona University. “Right now, pretty much all people have is voice to interact with their pets or touch. People want more.”
Heidi Hurn recently clipped one of these gadgets, the Whistle Activity Monitor, to the collar of Hoosier, her 11-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever. This $130 brushed metal device, about the dimensions of a ketchup bottle cap, records when it is active, for how long and at what intensity level. It is the canine equivalent of the Jawbone UP, a fitness tracker that Hurn bought for her fiance.
Through an app on her iPhone, Hurn, 32 years old, who works in medical device sales in Seattle, can see a bar chart showing how hard and for how long