Technology has already revolutionized your life. Now it could do the same for your pet.
Imagine being at work and getting a smartphone notification that was activated by your dog at home. You open up an app and can see Fido wagging his tail on the pet cam. When you click “play” you can control a toy for Fido to chase. After a few moments, you click “treat” and one drops for him from a dispenser. You watch Fido run over and devour it, wagging his tail.
This could soon be the future of pet care, says Yaroslav Azhnyuk, CEO and co-founder of Petcube. His company is part of a growing industry that offers innovative solutions to connect owners with their pets like never before. The goal, he says, is to change how we interact with our animals when we’re not home, and to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.
“Technology allows us to give pets a voice and connect with our pets in a new, and maybe even more meaningful, way,” Azhnyuk says. “We can understand more about their behaviors, what they want. We can be close to them even when we’re not in the same physical space.”
Petcube currently sells a Wi-Fi-enabled HD camera that lets you look and listen in on your pet anytime via an app. It also lets you speak to your pet and get alerts about any disturbances in your home. And there are versions of Petcube with features that dispense treats and allow you to aim lasers so you can play with your pet anytime from anywhere.
In the near future, Azhnyuk expects it will be possible for a device to allow your pets to call you by activating a sensor at a spot in your home that you've trained them to stand in when they wish to connect with you. It would work on the same principles as Pavlov's dog experiments, Azhnyuk says.
Over the decades, technology has allowed us to have closer contact with the people we care about, says Ben Jacobs, CEO of Whistle, a pet care tech company. This desire for constant access is especially true among friends and family — including pets.
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“We had this concept, as pet owners ourselves, that we could use technology to improve pets’ lives and really enable a smarter era of pet care where we wouldn’t be flying blind to things like losing our pets or keeping them active and healthy throughout the day,” Jacobs says.
Whistle makes a lightweight waterproof tracker that attaches to your pet’s collar and uses Wi-Fi, GPS, and cellular technology to track a pet's movements. Whistle's tracker also has an accelerometer that can measure your pet’s activity levels, and it can even notify you if your pet leaves an area you’ve programmed in the app as “home.”
“The products that are succeeding in this growing market are the products that give pet parents that much-needed peace of mind,” Jacobs says.
Wearables make it possible to collect data about your pet’s activity levels and diet, which might alert you to unusual behaviors and health concerns, says Davide Rossi, CEO of FitBark, an activity tracker for your pet.
In the future, the data collected will be able to better inform us of what typical, healthy behavior is for pets of different ages and breeds, he says. “We start to build a snowball of metrics.”
“Technology allows us to give pets a voice and connect with our pets in a new, and maybe even more meaningful, way.”
Those metrics could help pet owners make smarter choices in caring for their animals. And that type of big data could change what veterinarians know about your pet to help owners “better take care of them, address their needs, and enhance their lives and ours,” Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, told NBC Mach in an email.
But these devices shouldn’t lead to less physical interaction with our pets, says Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of several books about animal ethics.
“Dogs are social beings that need attachment and need that social interaction,” Bekoff says. “Technology can be beneficial for dogs and their humans. But it shouldn’t be a substitute for the human’s central role in the life of a dog.”
That’s a challenge in developing these technologies, said Kevin Li, CEO of PlayDate, which developed a remote-controlled ball that allows you to play with your pet while you’re away.
“Dogs are social animals and need social interaction with us,” Li said in an email. But at the same time, he added, there’s a lot of healthy behavior they would experience in the wild that they don't get while they sit at home all day.
That’s the goal of pet technology, Li explained. “A robotic caretaker that replaces you would be a terrible idea. In contrast, some kind of robotic care or health monitoring option would be fantastic, as it keeps your dog healthy and does things that you as a pet owner can’t do yourself.”