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App Review: Pet Sitter
Can an app really stop your dog’s barking while you’re away?

The Pet Sitter app makes some big promises for its $1.99 price tag. Well, maybe not promises, but strong suggestions. The Pet Sitter assures you that it will keep your dog (or cat or bird) company while you’re home and that it will email you if your dog won’t stop barking. What it very strongly suggests is that it can distract your dog from barking using a simple mobile device.

So, does it work? Maybe. Sometimes. In certain situations. For certain dogs.

A quick word on the basic application, which works on iPhone, iPad and iPod: When I discussed this application with fellow dog owners, their response, invariably, was “When am I going to leave my phone at home?” Yes, this application is really only useful for people who have a mobile device they plan to leave at home, such as an iPod, iPad or old phone.

Fortunately, I have an Apple device I could leave at home, and decided to test drive the application on Skoda, my four-year-old Boxer. Skoda is an ideal test dog for this application, since he barks every single time any person comes to the door. I just needed to turn on the application before I left the house, knock on the door when I came home and listen to Skoda’s reaction.

When you first fire up the Pet Sitter application, you are prompted to select a series of sounds that will play whenever your dog barks. There is a nice selection to choose from, from doors creaking to squeaky toys to chirping birds. You can select the sounds most likely to distract your particular pooch, and steer clear of any sounds he finds particularly upsetting. The idea is to choose a variety of sounds, so if the giggling baby doesn’t capture his attention, the ringing telephone might. You can also select a noise threshold, so the Pet Sitter app can go off when your dog makes or peep or not until he’s barking to high heaven. Then you make sure you hit “Start” before you leave the house.

The first few times I tested the application on Skoda, I left the device near the door, the most likely place he’d start barking. Then, after leaving the house for a few hours, I tried knocking on the door. Sure enough, Skoda came scrambling to the top of the stairs, barking with great enthusiasm. I listened to the Pet Sitter chirp and buzz and hiccup, and watched through the window as Skoda gave it the full Boxer head tilt…and went right on barking. Rinse. Repeat.

In fact, I was about to write off the application (at least where my fellow is concerned), until one day I came home, knocked on the door and heard Skoda stop barking when the application went off. I’ll admit it: I was pretty impressed.

So the application might work if you have a dog who tends to stop barking when he’s distracted, and you can reliably plan where to leave your pet-sitting device. But you also might need to be diligent about switching up the sounds so that your pup doesn’t become inured to them.

One of the handier promises Pet Sitter makes is that it will email you if it fails to dissuade your dog’s barking. That way, you’ll know if your dog is actually barking as often as the neighbors claim—and if something is regularly upsetting him while you’re gone. It won’t tattle if your dog merely yips at the mailman, only if he cycles through several levels of distractions without simmering down. Personally, that’s a feature I’d like to customize, but it’s better than nothing.

Well, it would be better than nothing. I tried barking at the application until a message popped up telling me that I was a noisy creature and my parents would be receiving an email. So I eagerly raced to my computer and checked my inbox. Nada. Nothing in my spam filter, either. In fact, I’m still waiting on that email. Perhaps Pet Sitter decided not to rat me out after all.

Pet Sitter isn’t an application I would personally recommend. I suspect that the email feature won’t be reliable until the next version or so, which would make it a more useful application down the line. Still, if you’re willing to bet $1.99 that it might quell your dog’s barking, it could be worth the gamble.

Platforms: iPod, iPad, iPhone

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Lauren Davis is a Berkeley-based freelance writer and editor of The Comic Book Guide to the Mission. She lives with her four-year-old Boxer, Skoda, who doesn't mind playing guinea pig as long as there are treats involved.
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