Fitness trackers

Dog fitness trackers are irresistible to data-loving humans

Dogs can’t tell us they crashed their training. This is where smart collars come in.

GPS collars are nothing new. But previous models were designed to track working or sporting dogs in the field, and their bulky, unwieldy antennas weren’t exactly consumer-friendly.

In recent years, however, several new companies have improved the concept and repackaged it for the average pet-owning consumer. There are several on the market (Fi, FitBark, Whistle, to name a few) and they are all waterproof, rugged yet lightweight devices with GPS, WiFi/cellular connectivity, long battery life and activity tracking.

Much like Fitbit or Apple Watch, smart collars (or wearable pet devices) use sensors and motion tracking to gather data about your dog’s habits. The app displays graphs and charts of doggy data on their activity and sleep.

Credit: Fi

Screenshot on smartphone of dogs classified by stages.

Credit: Fi

But humans and dogs have been best friends for tens of thousands of years. Do we really need an app to tell us about our dogs? Why do we need a device that tells us what a responsible dog owner should already know? Apparently, there’s more to learn about our furry friends.

For one thing, dogs can’t verbally tell us what they need.

“I can’t just watch [my dog] and say, ‘Hey, did you sleep well last night?’ But I can actually pull my app and see. That’s a solid argument from Jonathan Bensamoun, founder and CEO of smart collar company Fi.

Surprisingly, Bensamoun is not someone who is obsessed with trackers. “I’ve tried all the trackers and every time after a day I’m like, ‘Okay, cool, what do I care?’ If I had a bad night’s sleep, I knew it before [my Apple Watch] told me.” But for Thor, his German Shepherd, it’s different. “When it comes to my dog, absolutely. It’s super reassuring.

Bensamoun says that while the activity features are fun and useful, location tracking is absolutely Fi’s core feature.

Victor Esteves and his Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix, Harvey, were in a wooded park in Boston when Harvey went into the woods and did not return Esteves’ calls. After 15 minutes of frantic searching, Esteves found Harvey chasing moles. “Of course he was carefree,” Esteves said, but that’s when he decided to buy a Fi necklace. “I feel immense peace of mind knowing he has it.”

Image of black and tan dog with tongue sticking out in master's arms

Merry Harvey just wanted to hunt moles.
Credit: Victor Esteves

Losing a dog is every owner’s worst nightmare. So the ability to track your dog’s whereabouts is a definite value proposition. But it’s activity tracking that raises questions about the role of technology in our lives.

Bensamoun says the company wanted to prevent users from becoming obsessed with step accumulation. “When we design these features, we make sure we don’t create the wrong incentive. You don’t want to just create like a leaderboard and be like, ‘Okay, go walk your dog 100,000 steps a day.’ » The interface shows how many steps the dogs take in a bell curve distribution. This way users can get an idea of ​​what is a normal amount of exercise and what is not.

“If anything,” Bensamoun said, “the incentive we’re trying to create there is consistency.” All of the activity tracking – the steps, the streaks, the goals, the bar graphs – is about achieving your own goal for your dog, not some universal standard. This effectively removes any direct competition.

Of course, with all this dog activity data, there must be some friendly rivalry between dog owners. “I live for the notifications that say, ‘Riley is marked in the top [ranking] Australian Shepherds in the area,” said Jo Tic, who has a Fi collar for Riley, her almost two-year-old Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix.

Does she sometimes feel that the competition is getting too strong? “It actually never stresses me out,” Tic said. “It really excites me to see the potential because I think I feel inspired by what other dog owners and other dogs are doing.” Tic, who lives in Austin, TX, volunteers as a fundraising director for a host group in Texas. “If anything, I love celebrating other dogs’ successes.”

For David Buccola, a carpenter from Manhattan, NY, seeing a dog move up the rankings motivates him to walk his dogs. Buccola who has two Chihuahuas named Taco Bell and Lexi Bell loves proving people wrong about race. When Lexi scores high on the leaderboard, “I’ve enjoyed it so much. It defies the stereotype that she should just be carried around in a small purse or something, but she loves going out.

Image of two Chihuahuas standing on a rocky lookout.

Taco Bell and Lexi Bell aren’t interested in your anti-Chihuahua bias.
Credit: David Buccola

Buccola and his wife, who have FitBark GPS devices for Lexi and Taco, often take bike rides in upper Manhattan. They have baskets on their bikes when the dogs are tired, but they regularly marvel at the endurance of their little dogs. “These devices make you realize that our dogs can do so much more than what we give them.”

Like Buccola, being able to track activity made Jo Tic feel more in tune with Riley. It’s the consistency of the follow-up that allows him (and his vet) to look for trends or find answers. Tic recalled that Riley didn’t eat the day before this interview. So she looked at the Fi app. “I saw we had been exercising so much on our hike, she was probably just pooping.”

Tic also says that when she goes to the vet, she can just retrieve the data and share exactly what’s going on. This is exactly why Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention (APOP) is a fan.

“Most of the time when I’m in the exam room and I ask the client, ‘So how often or how many times do you walk your dog a day?’ I mean, most Americans are going to say, I don’t know, you know, 30 to 40 minutes a day. When we compare that with the data reported on one device, this objective device, it takes about 12 minutes. A 2011 study review reported that humans who are asked to report their activity level tend to overestimate an average of 84%. It stands to reason that we would do something similar with our dogs.

Dr Ward says weight loss in dogs is “60-70% diet related”, but activity trackers can help by providing accurate data on how much or how little exercise your dog is exercising. dog does.

“I think people have the mistaken impression that their dog is sitting in the yard and running around all day and the reality is that about 16 hours a day your dog is probably lying in a completely inactive place.”

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For dogs that are directed toward a specific goal, this benchmarking can be especially helpful. When Sassafras Lowrey’s dog, a Newfoundland named Sirius, underwent double knee surgery, she used FitBark to track her rehabilitation progress. Lowrey, who is a dog trainer and author, was also working with a veterinary physical therapist for Sirius, but the metrics collected by FitBark helped Lowrey see Sirius’ improvement over time and lift his spirits.

Image of Lowrey and his dog Sirius on his hind legs on a sandy beach.

Lowrey used FitBark to gather different metrics on Sirius’ knee surgery rehabilitation.
1 credit

Smart collars might seem like a more intrusive piece of technology that bombards the data-weary public with even more data. But if they let us know where to find our dogs, keep us honest about exercise, and give us other information about our best friends’ health, maybe they’re worth it.

Related video: Move over, Boston Dynamics. You can build your own little robot dog now.