JoAnna Lou
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
High Tech Dog Gadgets
Smart collar tracks our pets' behavior for improved health
There are all sorts of high tech pet gadgets out these days, many which seem a little unnecessary.  Do we really need a QR code or USB stick identification tag?  Beyond the novelty factor, they're a little impractical in an actual emergency, unless used in conjunction with a more traditional method.
At first I thought the same about the new "smart collars" on the market, but the more I read about them, the more I can see how the technology could provide valuable information on our pets' health.  
Whistle just launched a dog collar that wirelessly tracks data about your dog's activity throughout the day.  It uses an accelerometer to determine if your dog is being active (walking or playing), resting, or sleeping.  The information can then be viewed with a smartphone or web app to see the length of time your pup spends engaged in each of these behaviors.  The app also features charts that let you look at behavior change over time and allow you to compare your dog's statistics to their breed average.  The data can be used for everything from identifying deviations to monitoring effects of a new food or medication.  I think that the collar is particularly handy for identifying changes in behavior during peiods of time when you're not home or in the middle of the night.
Whistle was inspired by founder Ben Jacobs' childhood German Shepherd.  When Ben was eight years old, the dog unexpectedly died from an intestinal problem that the family didn't know about.  Since then, Ben has been focused on getting better care for pets.    
Being familiar with your dog's normal behavior, and when they deviate from that baseline, is indispensable for early detection of health problems.  Animals are very good at hiding illnesses, so it's up to us to notice small changes in behavior.  Veterinarians rely  on us to describe the symptoms we're observing on a day-to-day basis to help make an accurate diagnosis.
Last year my dog, Nemo, started refusing certain foods and was slightly more lethargic than normal.  I brought him to the emergency room because I knew he wasn't acting like his usual self.  The emergency room vet said it was probably an upset stomach and sent us home with some medicine.  I knew it couldn't just be an upset stomach--Nemo would enthusiastically eat dirt if you offered it to him--so I brought him to another vet who ended up finding pieces of a leash stuck in his intestine.  If I hadn't known what was normal behavior for Nemo, I might not have gotten a second opinion and might have even waited until it developed into a much more serious condition.
So if the Whistle collar encourages more people to pay closer attention to their dog's behavior, it's definitely a good thing.  Even if people don't end up buying the collar, just reading about the functionality may inspire someone to be more observant.
The collar is certainly very cool, but for now I think I'm going to spend my $100 on more treats and tug toys to play with my pups!
Are you using any high tech gadgets for your crew?


JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Whistle.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Hunter | June 22 2013 |

My dog wears a SportDog ECollar when off lead in parks which permit off-lead within a busy, dense metro area. ECollars' history of perception and use is well-known to be checkered. Cruel and inhumane to some, mis-used by many, etc.

Among the park regulars, there are five dogs who all wear ECollars, all bird dogs; Retrievers, springer and field spaniels, and drathaars. These breeds all share a prey drive and cities have birds and squirrels. While 100% recall perfection is the goal of every field dog owner, most also recognize that perfection is a life-long goal.

These dogs also share the best recall compliance amongst their group, the results of what the owners have each discovered as the best training philosophy to attain it: positive reward, praise, and fun.

So it seems worth pointing out:
- The presence of an ECollar does not automatically mean the owner is a vicious task master. They are best understood as an "invisible leash" of unlimited length.
-ECollars are often used by the most, not least, loving and involved dog parents as one in a wide array of behavior tools they can describe at great length if engaged.
- ECollars should never be used punitively. Reservation of judgment regarding the owner's moral status until evidence (which is obvious) appears is never a bad policy.
- ECollars should be adjusted to the lowest setting which attains a positive response. (Positive response means "results in the behavior you want." It does not mean yelping, quitting, shutting down, fleeing, bolting, or aggressing.)
- ECollars provide a layer of safety for dogs whose prey drive may momentarily over-ride an otherwise reliable recall. Three short feet of drift on a "stop" command can be the difference between life and death.
- Properly calibrated to the individual dog, an ECollar delivers about the same stimulus as touching a door knob after walking across a thick rug. Yes, I've tried it on my own neck. It feels a lot better than the compound fracture I suffered when I ignored my own mom's "stop" command before diving into that backyard pool, as a kid. (No - do not put an ECollar on a human child. Duh. Trying to make a point about relative risk/reward here)
- Every use of the ECollar should result in fewer future uses of the ECollar. If your dog continues to run past the curb after three or four ECollar nicks on different curbs, you should stop using the ECollar and do some concentrated positive reward work on stopping at the curb. ECollars' nick functions should be, over the term of a few months, self-extinguishing-if you are doing it right, then pretty soon, you are not using those functions at all.
- ECollars do more than deliver nicks. Many also have beeps which are supposed to be used as "clicker" equivalents for reward; many also include sirens for locating a field dog whose range goes beyond line of sight. Some even include GPS locators. They are far more than just "shock" collars.
- An ECollar, used as safety insurance, is gentler than the nip, bite, or scruff shake the puppy would likely receive from its mother as a corrective.
- Within the context of humane ethics, a live dog, well-conditioned to recognize danger, self-managing itself in future similar contexts due to properly applied reward training, backed up by judicious ECollar usage, rates higher than a "positive reward only" dog who ends up under the wheels of a vehicle because someone across the street yelled "Hi, Spot! Come here!" without looking both ways first.

Submitted by Nancy | July 14 2013 |

This would have been SO helpful in determining my dog's slow CCL tear. I kept wondering if he wasn't slowing down; had I had this device, I would have had proof.

I'm contacting this company so I can purchase one and keep on montering him, with more accuracy this time.

More From The Bark

More in JoAnna Lou:
Latest Shock Collar Research
OSU's Full Time Pet Therapy Program
Canine Hero Returns to Ground Zero
Dogs Prefer Petting Over Praise
Microchip Brings Dog Home Eight Years Later
Canine Curriculum for Kids
Jealousy in Dogs
Shelter Pets at the Emmys
Making Tumors Glow
3-D Printed Dog Cart