A look at technology that helps our pets

By Elissa Matulis Myers

From cell phones to Google, from work to your personal life, from the kitchen to the bedroom, technology is everywhere. According to IT research firm Gartner, things like virtual reality, apps, and Alexa will only continue to develop and spread. But just in case you think this trend is only for humans, let’s check out the huge market output of technological innovation designed specifically for your dog. Some of it is just plain silly fun, but other devices are extremely practical and even life-saving!

Probably the single best high-tech investment you can make is a microchip—a small, electronic device enclosed in a glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice. It is activated by a scanner that is passed over the dog; radio waves activate the chip. The chip transmits an identification number to the scanner, which displays the number on the screen. Most veterinarians have scanners in their offices, and most will provide a scan on a “found” dog at no cost.

A study conducted by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association followed more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters and showed that “dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time, but microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time.” For most cases where microchipped animals didn’t make it back to their parents, it was the human who messed up and forgot to input information in the microchip registry database. You can ask your local vet about the risks and rewards of a microchip, but always remember that the choice is yours to make.

Lucky for us, the tech industry is teaming up with animal lovers to create other innovations for your furry friend’s care, protection, and amusement!

Safety and Protection

It’s a scary world out there for dogs (big or little) and their owners. Cars, poisons, coyotes: there’s almost no end to the ways that your dog might get into trouble and potentially be injured, too often fatally. The good news is that there is an ever-widening array of technological devices that can keep you both safe and happy. Here are just a few:

Ever have your dog slip his collar when he sees a squirrel or deer? During early morning or late evening walks when visibility is low, keeping track of where your buddy goes can be doubly challenging. The K-9ite Company is introducing their first product, the K-9ite Safety Light, via Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The K-9ite Safety Light is an LED safety belt for dogs, designed for high visibility in dark or low-light conditions. The belt uses a SekureFit Elastic Comfort Band, which lets the dog keep moving freely, and features a quick release buckle. Of course, it is also covered by LED lights housed in a lightweight, weather-proof silicone that also happens to be toxin-free. You can change the lights along a full spectrum of customized colors and select several types of flash, all of which can be controlled via Bluetooth and the K-9ite smartphone app. Expect the product to ship out in the second half of 2018, which is a bit of a wait, but we’re excited to see it light up the night and keep pups safe! https://www.k9ite.com/

The cure for that bark at the door to go out at two in the morning? An automatic pet door, naturally! Conventional pet doors make your pup push her head against a hard flap, and they can let other critters into the house by mistake. The Power Pet Door from High Tech Pets, however, uses an ultrasonic collar that’s equipped with a signal function. When your dog approaches the door head on, the door flap opens automatically, and then recloses—until he wants to come back inside! And if your dog likes to take a moonlight swim during his midnight prowl, you can upgrade to a fully-submersible collar for a few dollars more. Door-and-collar packages range from roughly $300 to a pricier $830 for extra-tall patio doors. http://www.hitecpet.com/power-pet-door.html

If you don’t trust your pup to come and go on his own, SureFlap has created a “smart door” called the Microchip Pet Door Connect that works with RFID-collared and microchipped pets to ensure it only opens for the right animal. The whole kit includes a custom-made smartphone app that lets you schedule curfews and remotely lock the door with a single tap, while up-to-date notifications will tell you when your pet has left the building (or returned home). $250. https://www.surepetcare.com

Tomofun has given us Furbo, an iOS/Android camera that connects to your wi-fi and lets you monitor your dog with livestream video, whether you’re at work in Reston or on vacation in Maui. Keep tabs on your canine with a 160-degree wide-angle view and a two-way chat and barking alert, which pings you via smartphone when the dog is making noise. (Don’t worry: you can adjust the sensitivity of the barking detection if your loved one likes to yap.) Importantly, you can talk to your dog and let him hear your voice, which can help if he’s nervous or agitated. Furbo also comes equipped with a treat-tossing arm that can hold 100 treats, letting you throw in a little motivation and fun for your pet when you’re away. $199. https://shopus.furbo.com/

There are quite a few “smart collars” on the market that let you find your dog if he gets lost. One helpful option is the LINK AKC smart collar, which lets you GPS-track your pooch, monitor physical activity, log vet records, get ambient temperature alerts, and more. The collar works with a LINK AKC app to help you stay active in managing your dog’s well-being, and to keep up the connection when you’re away from home. The smart collar also comes with a tracking unit, collar carrier, base station, and charging cord. (The base station can charge the tracking unit and your cell phone at the same time!) $149 plus monthly service charge ($7-10). https://www.linkakc.com/

Technology for Training

There’s no substitute for competent, personal dog training. Dogs want to please you, and they will almost always respond to your lessons with obedience if you are consistent and clear. There are, of course, many wonderful professionals in NOVA who can guide you and your dog to do the right things. (And not do the wrong things!) But here are some great tech gadgets that can help reinforce the lessons you’re trying to impart.

Worried about your dog barking at runners? Chasing cars? Digging in your garden? The Bluefang  training collar uses your smartphone as a remote transmitter with a 400-foot range to create different sounds you can use as corrective stimuli. It’s programmed to be “progressive,” so the first few times the dog “breaks the rules,” the sound is fairly gentle, but if he doesn’t respond, it can become more and more intrusive until he figures out that it’s just better not to bark, jump up on visitors, or otherwise misbehave. The basic version is $88. http://www.hitecpet.com/bluefang-bluetooth-dogcollar.html

The Bluefang solution is getting praise, but it does depend on your participation in the process. On the other hand, the Nuyawo Mini Outdoor Sonic Dog Bark Ultrasonic Training tool is designed for hanging or mounting on a tree, wall, or fencepost to keep your dog (or your neighbor’s dog) from barking. The device emits an ultrasonic sound when activated by an internal microphone that works with a 50-foot range. It has adjustable volume levels, too. Please talk to your neighbors about this one before you get it! $28 on Amazon.

Just for Fun

A dog’s life is more than just training, sleeping, and going to the vet. Your fuzzy companion also needs some R&R once in a while! (Okay, maybe she already spends a significant amount of time taking R&R.)

Do you leave your TV on for your dog to keep him company when you’re away? Abrupt explosive noises and other unpleasant sounds, as well as images, from the TV can increase his anxiety. A Sylvester Stallone-style action movie might positively traumatize your pup, and you wouldn’t be there for comfort! That was the idea behind the new TV channel designed and programmed especially for dogs. The company says that “DOGTV’s 24/7 programming helps stimulate, entertain, relax, and habituate dogs with shows that expose them to various movements, sounds, objects, experiences and behavior patterns, all from a dog’s point of view.” Recognizing that dogs, like humans, have different interests and needs, DOGTV has organized its content into three categories you can choose from: relaxation programs for anxious or hyper days; stimulation shows that feature sounds and videos from other animals to entertain and amuse; and exposure content, which shows some common canine stressors (like lightning, vacuum cleaners, and fireworks) with limited intensity to get your pup more comfortable around them. Works through Xfinity, DirecTV, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire. https://www.dogtv.com/


DOGTV is sharing an exclusive deal with NOVADog’s readers for a free month of their canine channel: redeem it on their website with the code: NOVADOG and keep your fur-baby entertained all day! Go to www.dogtv.com, click on “sign up” and enter the code in the box that says “Redeem Coupon.”

The iFetch Automatic Ball Launcher is the ticket for your tireless pooch who can’t get enough of catching and retrieving balls. The machine comes with three tennis balls that you can launch into the air, but your own supply should work just fine. Ideally, you will train your dog to retrieve the ball, bring it back to the machine, and reload it by dropping the ball into an opening at the top. (The option for you to reload for your dog is open too, of course!) You can adjust the launch distance to 10, 20, or 30 feet with a built-in button, or use the variable setting to keep your pet guessing. The device is marketed as “the perfect indoor or outdoor dog toy,” but I would suggest you put the fine china away if you’re going to use it in the home. There are two sizes available: one for regular-or-small-sized dogs, and one specifically for big dogs. The Original iFetch is $115. https://goifetch.com/

Puppy Tweets is an electronic tag that clips onto your dog’s collar and sends you pre-loaded Twitter posts based on what your pup is up to. Any time your dog barks, eats, or plays, the motion activity sensor triggers one of 500 humorous Tweets that are instantly posted to Twitter. Tweets are based on movement, so when your dog is feeling hyper, you’ll get a different message than if the afternoon was one big power nap. Puppy Tweets also recognizes time of day, day of the week, and holidays. As the creator says on the Twitter page, @Puppy_Tweet, “What does your dog have to say? Find out with Puppy Tweets. It’s hard to tweet when you’re all paws!” $29.99 on Amazon. Keep in mind, however, that some Amazon users have brought up issues with the device’s functionality and size.

If you want to organize your enormous library of dog pictures into one visible place, you can try Pack, a social media website that lets you create profiles for each dog and then upload all those cool moments you’ve captured with him or her. You can import all your pictures from Instagram, and then connect with other dogs around the country by sending them “hearts” and messages. People have designed some pretty fancy profiles there, too. If this seems like the same thing as Facebook or Instagram, but for dogs, then you’re right! Pack makes a point of saying that its site is 100% about pups, so if you’re only online for those dog snapshots, then this is a good community to try. You can also use their free iPhone app Snack to receive a happiness boost of curated dog photos at a time of your choice. Not a bad way to wake up in the morning! www.packdog.com

If you’re into apps, you can sign on to Wooof (that’s three o’s) for a combination of social networking and dog tracking. It lets you follow your friends and their dogs on a real-time map, assign dog walkers, and search nearby vets. Count your pup’s steps when you’re out hiking, or even call a dog-friendly taxi to wherever you are. Of course, there’s a platform for sharing pictures and video, and for chatting with people in your network. Find it on Apple and Android! https://www.wooof.com

Good Health

It’s not all fun and games for a dog! Health problems crop up, and we need to deal with them. Thankfully, though, technological breakthroughs are leading to better health outcomes for our canine friends. “The world of animal medicine has seen drastic technological advances in the last 20 years,” according to Carrington College, which specializes in medical and veterinary training. Many of the new tools and techniques that the veterinary world uses had its origin in human medical treatment, so the things that help us stay healthy are being passed along to our dogs. Whether it’s MRIs or ultrasounds, the medical field is looking out for our furry friends.

And while it’s not a “product,” I have to mention the Internet itself, which has opened up a world of information on how to keep your pet healthy. The website of the American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, has a publicly accessible list of animal food products that have been recalled for safety reasons. Over the past year, around 65 products—many of them from common popular companies—have been flagged or recalled, including “Natural Selections Meals for Dogs” by Darwin’s Natural Pet Products. We can use our access to information in a way that’s healthy for our dogs, but it’s also important to consult with a vet or other professional when we have questions.

Here are some ways we use technology to treat dogs:

The odds are good that you’ve heard of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—maybe you’ve had a scan yourself. This technology uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of specific bones, joints, muscles, and internal organs. They don’t use ionizing radiation (such as X-rays) like radiography and CT scans do. Vets rely on MRIs to non-invasively examine dogs’ brains and get scans of orthopedic and soft tissue structures. With a clearer picture of what’s going on inside the animal, a vet can more accurately diagnose problems. Veterinarian Shawn Messonnier says in Animal Wellness that he typically recommends MRIs for dogs with neurological problems like seizures (“Does Your Dog Need an MRI?”). These scans aren’t exceptionally common with canines, however, in part because the devices aren’t widely available.

While MRIs are helpful and powerful, they can also be expensive, often running up a $2,500 bill or more. Anesthetics need to be administered, too, since the device requires your pet to stay absolutely still. These issues have made it a bit difficult for MRIs to be accessible to everyone, although pet insurance plans can help on the payment side. It may look scary seeing your pup in an MRI machine, but she’s safe! If there are any metal plates or implants in the dog, however, make sure you tell your vet—some metals can disrupt imaging, and magnetic metals are highly dangerous when scanning.

There’s also ultrasound imaging, which is often cheaper ($300-500) and is best suited for examining internal organs. (No X-rays here, either—just focused sound waves.) Ultrasounds are widely used to create images of fetuses as they develop in a parent, but they can also help cardiovascular specialists take 3-D and even 4-D (that’s 3D shown over time) pictures of pet patients’ hearts. They’re also used to diagnose cysts and tumors, and the good news is your dog usually won’t need anesthesia for the procedure. However, these scans aren’t as helpful for looking at bones and joints.

If you have a dog with diabetes, the careful monitoring of his glucose levels used to mean frequent and expensive visits to your veterinarian. To be clear, diabetes is a very serious condition in dogs, and you should seek the advice and management of your vet on a regular basis. But in between visits to the office, the AlphaTRAK 2 Veterinary Blood Glucose Monitoring Starter Kit may help manage your pet’s diabetes. It is a portable blood glucose monitoring system specifically calibrated and validated for dogs. Users say it needs only a very small sample of capillary blood: no venous puncture is required. However, while users have praised the accuracy and efficacy of the test, they also complained about the cost of test strips. Some even recommended using the human version for their dogs, but definitely consult with your vet before doing this. You can find the AlphaTRAK 2 on Amazon for about $50, but a 50-count of test strips sets you back another $55.

Do you use Fitbit? Yes? No? Either way, why not get the dog version for your beloved fur-baby? WonderWoof is a free app that works with a not-free Bluetooth-enabled BowTie device, which attaches to your dog’s collar and tracks his activity. (Yes, it’s shaped like a bowtie!) It helps make sure your pup is getting the right amount of exercise based on his size, breed, and age. Whether you’re relaxing at home or in the park, you can get real-time updates via the app and know if your dog is running, sleeping, playing, or walking. (However, it is not a GPS and cannot track lost pups.) You can also connect and meet with other dog lovers in your area using the map-enabled social features. Plus, the BowTie is waterproof! BowTies are $45-65, app is free. https://wonderwoof.com/

Finally, you can help your pup get in and out of your vehicle with the Hitch Dog Ramp, which is made of lightweight aluminum and fixes to the hitch of your truck, van, or car. This might be helpful for elderly dogs or dogs with mobility issues—or if you just want to ensure that your buddy can have a comfortable time entering and exiting your ride. $350. https://www.hitchdogramp.com/

This is only a small sample of what technology has to offer our dogs. The wonderful world of dog tech will only keep developing and spreading, so I hope you learn to harness it for your furry friend’s health (and entertainment)!

Elissa Meyers is a writer who lives in the NOVA area.