At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) start up competition last week in Las Vegas, a game console for dogs called CleverPet took first place, beating out accessories for virtual reality experiences and a number of smart home products. The prize was a free booth at the evening’s ShowStopper Event, guaranteeing more press for this product.
There are already plenty of digital products for dog guardians, such as pet trackers and health monitors, but this product aims to serve the needs of the dog directly, not the needs of the people. CleverPet is a digital entertainment device that can help dogs who are bored and lack mental stimulation. There are several games available, and they update automatically by Wi-fi. In one game, dogs must remember and correctly respond to patterns of lights and sounds. Puzzles start out simple and progressively get harder. In another game, they must respond to words such as “left” and “right” to hit the correct touch pad. In the squirrel game, the dog must properly respond to catch the squirrel as the light (the squirrel) darts from pad to pad at increasing speeds. In all games, correct responses lead to food rewards. Videos of dogs engaged with the device look promising.
Many people may be put off by the thought of their dogs learning how to respond to this device, but as the inventors point out, it’s not really a new concept. Mice and rats have been asked to perform similar tasks in the interests of scientific research for years. CleverPet is simply bringing this concept directly to consumers for the benefit of our dogs.
The benefits of mental stimulation and the relief of boredom are obvious. Additionally, I think dogs benefit by being successful which makes them feel good. I’m not one to underestimate the advantage of earning food by making choices and being right to dogs’ self esteem and happiness. On the other hand, there could be drawbacks to this product.
It can become a digital pet sitter, meaning that people could use it to keep their dogs busy instead of engaging with them directly. If people find that their dogs are entertained by CleverPet, they could use it as an excuse not to walk them or to play with them. Lack of exercise and a decrease in social interactions can make for less social dogs who are more prone to weight gain. As long as people limit the amount of time that their dogs spend having fun with it, there’s not a problem.
I’m curious about the physiological affects on dogs of this product. Will the lights influence their sleep as screen time does to us? Will they become frustrated if they do not succeed often enough or if the device is turned off? Can dogs become addicted to digital play as so many human gamers have?
Even with the possible drawbacks to having dogs play with CleverPet, I’m enthusiastic about the potential it has to be a positive experience. People can track a dog’s progress, game levels and food intake throughout the day on their phones. They can set CleverPet to be on at only a certain time of day, or turn it on and off remotely.
It’s no surprise to me that this product is already making such a splash in the electronics world. After all, in addition to videos of dogs using CleverPet, the inventors had an exceptionally clever pitch to the judges: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.” (You can argue whether or not that statement is true, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good sales pitch.)
CleverPet will be available in April 2016, and like game consoles for people, it’s pricey, going for $269. Are you interested?
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.