Here’s another special report from your favorite worry wart.
No sooner do I bemoan one high-tech invention for dog owners than another comes rolling along, equally worth fretting about.
This one is a 3-inch remotely controlled orange ball, with a high-def camera inside, that you can watch and listen to on your cell phone.
Its makers boast it will “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”
Let’s hope not.
It’s called PlayDate, now in the Indygogoing stage, and like many other contraptions hitting the market, it’s designed to make all the time your dog spends alone more bearable for him, and more entertaining and guilt-free for you.
The problem I have with that, as I’ve stated before, is how it lets dog owners shrug off the responsibility of dog ownership and diminishes the bond between dog and owner.
What I fret about is that the “future of human-pet interactions” could be long-distance, computer-assisted, virtual and heartless — exactly opposite of what dogs need, and exactly opposite of the reasons for having a dog in the first place.
A Manhattan inventor has come up with what the New York Post called “the next big thing for man’s best friend.”
Company co-founder Kevin Li says he got the idea for PlayDate after adopting his Rhodesian ridgeback-Lab mix, Hulk, three years ago.
“Looking at his sad face every time I left for work, I realized he … needed more time with his best friend.”
So Li (and we hope he worked from home at least a little bit) invented a ball for Hulk to play with — one he could control remotely, issue commands through, observe his dog through, and make squeak.
An adjunct computer-science professor at Columbia, Li described the $249 gadget as “Fitbit meets iPhone localization.”
He has already raised more than $200,000 on Indiegogo and has sold out of pre-orders.
With the rechargable ball, a pet owner can watch and listen to their pet, take photos, and record video, all from their iOS or Android device.
A stabilized camera inside provides real-time HD images. And a clear, replaceable outer shell protects the inner workings while allowing the camera — slobber aside — to see out clearly.
There are just three simple steps, its makers say: Download the free app, connect to wi-fi and “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”
Sorry, but talk like that scares me, as do a few other things.
The shell of the ball is made of a strong, chew-resistant polycarbonate, designed to withstand rambunctious play, according to its makers.
I hope that has been well tested, because I’d prefer not to think about what swallowing a little camera and a lithium polymer battery might do to a dog (or cat).
In the world of pet products, many a toy marketed as indestructible has proved otherwise.
Even PlayDate’s makers are saying that part might take some fine tuning:
“As we put PlayDate’s smart ball in front of more dogs and cats, we may discover the need to make aspects of its design more robust; any pet owner will tell you there’s no such thing as an indestructible toy. We have purposefully designed features like the replaceable outer shell with this in mind. Additional design changes may be required as we perform more testing.”
And what, I wonder, will be the effect of communicating with — and issuing orders to — your dog via an orange ball? Seeing an orange ball wandering around the house on its own, and hearing a disembodied voice come from it would, at the very least, be confusing, I’d think.
I’m all for keeping a dog active, engaged and feeling loved when the owner is away. But it’s a mistake to assume that technology can make up for failing to give your dog adequate attention.
And — needless to say — one shouldn’t get a dog in the first place if one is unwilling or unable to give him or her their time.
Face-time, I mean, with no cameras, or wi-fi, or remote controls involved.
Before we usher human-pet interaction “into the future,” it might be wise to question whether we really need to take that trip.
Didn’t we pretty much have it down just fine already — most of us, anyway?
(Photo: from PlayDate’s website)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 3rd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attention, babysitter, ball, bond, camera, communication, dog, dogs, dogs and technology, humans, inventions, pet, pet ownership, pets, playdate, products, remote, remote control, responsibility, technology, toy, toys, wi-fi
Reading stories about technological advances hitting the marketplace often makes me roll my eyes — because many of those so-called innovations, in my view, are like those new clothes that emperor wore.
Case in point, fitness trackers — those devices you wear on your wrist to remind you to get off your duff. Perhaps they perform some more vital functions, but based on a TV ad — pretty much the extent of my knowledge about them — they will buzz or beep if you’ve been sitting still too long (which most often is a result of earlier technology, i.e. the computer and television).
If that weren’t ridiculous enough, there are also (eye roll) fitness trackers for dogs.
Forbes reports that Whistle, the maker of a fitness tracker for your dog, is raising $16 million in a Series B venture capital round, bringing its total funding to $25 million.
In other words, a lot of people with money believe in it.
Whistle’s $100 Fitbit-like dog collar features a 3-axis accelerometer to track movement, Bluetooth for connecting with your smartphone, WiFi, and an app that collects fitness data, allowing you to track the activity level of your dog.
Whistle has acquired Snaptracs, which makes Tagg, a GPS tracker for your dog that — in addition to tracking movement — also includes a temperature sensor to make sure your dog doesn’t get too hot or cold.
The interest of such companies is understandable, given society is nuts about gizmos, apps and pets. On the latter alone, Americans spent $58.51 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
I’m all for any device that helps find dogs when they’re lost, but really now, do we need devices to let us know whether our dogs are too hot, too cold, and getting enough exercise?
We already have two devices for that, called eyes. And better yet, they are rollable, and don’t need recharging.
(Maybe someday there will be a wristband I can wear that notifies me when I am rolling my eyes — and reminds me, perhaps with a gentle zap of electricity, that it’s not an attractive trait.)
We’re in danger of letting silly gizmos replace our common sense, while gizmo-making companies get rich on our gullibility.
That’s how my rolling eyes see it; others see it differently. As Whistle CEO and founder Ben Jacobs explains:
“As the Internet of Things moves into these initial areas, people are looking at other key parts of life,” he is quoted as saying in the Forbes article. “The pet is a member of the family and an interesting vertical in the Internet of Things.”
Is there an app to translate that?
Posted by John Woestendiek January 30th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, apps, collar, collars, collection, data, device, dog, dogs, eye roll, fit, fitbit, fitness, gizmos, gps, pets, products, snaptrac, tagg, technology, wearable, whistle, wristbands
No longer do those of us who like to watch our dogs catch treats in mid-air have to go to all the effort of tossing them.
New from Purina, Beggin’ Party Poppers have hit the market — bacon and cheese-flavored treats that come in a canister with a lid that resembles a pig face.
Push in the pig’s nose, place a treat inside and, in a matter of seconds, the treat will be popped into the air for your dog to catch.
Sure, it may be easier to just toss the treat yourself, not to mention more of a bonding experience with your dog. But why bother with that when, for $18.97, you can let the canister launch a dog treat skyward for you?
That’s the price listed for the product — treats and canister — on Amazon. A refill bag of treats, meanwhile — and we hope this is a mistake — is listed at $26.86 on Amazon. Other online sources have the refills in the $6-7 range. You can learn more at www.pighead.com.
It seems, at first glance, an over-priced little gimmick, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it evolve, perhaps into an app that allows you to shoot your dog a treat while sitting in your workplace cubicle, or a self-loading version that shoots out a treat every hour for dogs left home alone.
Imagine that. Your dog, if he’s anything like mine, would spend 59 minutes of each hour staring at the machine, one minute of each chasing, catching and eating the treat. Dogs would begin to worship the treat machine even more than they do us. They’d sleep next to the treat machine. They’d bark at anyone who threatened the treat machine. They’d follow the treat machine — once a moving version, like those robo-vacuum cleaners, was perfected — everywhere it went.
And we’d have nothing to do but lay alone in our cold beds and look at our arms, grown flabby after we stopped tossing treats ourselves.
Yes, we’re stretching to make a point, but, propelled by technology, the pet industry does seem to be going in that direction — coming out with products that make it easier than ever for us to pamper our dogs while ignoring them.
Purina’s treat-launching pig is a harmless novelty, kind of fun, and it still requires a human’s involvement to work.
But with automatic feeders already a reality, automatic treat dispensers can’t be too far behind. Once automatic ball tossers and automatic ear scratchers hit the market, we dog-owning humans could find ourselves out of a job.
It’s nice for our dogs to stay occupied, but we shouldn’t turn too much of that job over to machines and robots.
That will only make our dogs, and us, more robot-like.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 3rd, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, bacon, beggin', beggin' party poppers, canister, catch, cheese, convenience, dog, dog food, dog treats, dogs, industry, launch, market, marketing, new, pets, pig, pig head, poppers, products, purina, throw, treats
Not since a cooler full of Omaha steaks showed up on our doorstep last Christmas has Ace been so excited about a box.
He gets highly curious about any package that to the house — be it a suitcase or paper bag — but when I brought a BarkBox inside with the rest of the mail, just before Christmas, he went bonkers, and he seemed to know it was intended for him.
It was a gift from his dachshund friends, Frank and Bogey, and their owner Faren, and while I fully intended to enforce the do-not-open-until-Christmas rule … well, it didn’t work out that way.
Given how much most of us spoil our dogs, BarkBox was a pretty smart idea — intended to get us, and our dogs, hooked on receiving a monthly box of treats, toys and goodies.
Then you start receiving a monthly sampling of items you might or might not like.
Dogs being far less picky, BarkBox might be an even smarter idea.
It was started by three New Yorkers — Henrik Werdelin, Matt Meeker and Carly Strife, who were trying to come up with a way dog owners (or dog parents, to use the term they prefer) could delight their dogs on a regular basis.
“There’s a difference between a dog owner and a dog parent,” Werdelin told New York magazine. “Dog parents are people who really love their dogs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places they can go to find new ways to delight their dog. BarkBox is full of those things.”
The items change monthly, and subscribers can choose one-month ($29), three-month ($24 per month), or six-month ($19 a month) plans. The company donates a portion of profits to animal shelters.
According to the BarkBox website, plans automatically renew, unless you cancel.
(I’ve never liked that kind of marketing — not since, as a teenager, I ended up in debt and with a bunch of albums I didn’t want thanks to a record-of-the-month club that refused to stop sending them until I informed them in writing that I had died.)
The genius of BarkBox is that — unlike humans who get an unrequested Perry Como album — dogs aren’t likely to turn their noses up at anything included in their packages.
Ace loved everything his contained — four types of treats and a floppy turkey toy made of cotton, jute and rope.
Once he got hold of a beef bladder chew from Barkworthies, there was no letting go — though I did put the rest of the treats aside for later.
It was a lovely and thoughtful gift, and hopefully a one-time one. I’d hate to think the gift giver might, through automatic renewal, be sending Ace a monthly box of treats for the rest of her life, or worse yet, that I might be held accountable for covering that expense.
If that happens, they can expect to be paid off with lightly-used Olivia Newton-John albums.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 26th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, bark box, barkbox, box, christmas, dog, doggie, dogs, gifts, marketing, merchandise, merchandising, online, package, pet, pets, products, subscription, toys, treats
Americans may be cutting corners to cope with the crappy economy, but spending on pets appears healthy as ever, at least according the the American Pet Products Association’s latest report and poll.
Pet ownership is at an all-time high of 72.9 million households — about two of every three households, according to survey results released Monday.
The total number of pets — including 78 million dogs and 86.4 million cats– represents a 2.1 percent increase over last year, according to UPI.
The APPA’s annual report showed Americans spent more than $48 billion on their pets in 2010, an increase of of 6.2 percent over 2009, and it anticipates spending could top $50 billion in 2011.
The biggest surge in spending is expected to be in the area of veterinary care, with the APPA estimating $14 billion will be spent by pet owners in 2011.
More than 15 percent of dog owners, in fact, said their animal’s medical treatment would take priority over their own, according to a Reuters report on the poll.
Spending on treats, toys and accessories was up a reported 30 percent, from $56 million to $73 million. And the cost of buying a dog has also spiked from $121 to $364 due to the increased price of pure breeds.
“The pet industry continues to see unprecedented growth,” said APPA President Bob Vetere. “The survey reveals pet owners are willing to spend money on their pets despite a downturn in the economy.”
(Photo: Money sculpture by Justine Smith. To see more of her art visit justinesmith.net)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, american pet products association, americans, animals, appa, cats, dogs, economy, industry, pet, pet industry, pets, poll, products, spending
Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.
James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved
Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.
U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.
Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.
Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.
While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.
Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.
This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.
No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.
Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.
Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said. “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.
The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.
Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”
Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.
“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.
Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.
Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.
“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: beagle, caat, canines, center for alternatives to animal testing, cures, disease, dog, dog lovers, dogs, experiments, genes, genetics, humane, james serpell, johns hopkins university, laboratory, love, medcial, medical, opposition, oxytocin, pain, pavlov, products, research, rising, school, stature, status, stress, tests, therapy, treatment, university of pennsylvania, veterinary
Too many Motel 6’s can begin to erode one’s self-esteem. I envisioned something better — if only for one night.
And when I found a La Quinta in Jackson, Mississippi — one that’s not among those in the pet-friendly chain to have raised its per-night prices into the $60’s, $70’s, even $80’s– I checked in, paying not the $40 rate I’d gotten when I made the reservation, but $45 (because I’d made it for the wrong night.)
For $10 more, I got shampoo. I got an in-room coffee maker. I got a complimentary breakfast. I got clean carpeting, a slightly less polyester bedpsread, slightly fluffier towels, a big TV, with batteries in the remote, a more restful sleep and an improved outlook.
And I got some upgraded toilet paper, as well. Instead of “envision” by Georgia-Pacific, the La Quinta was stocked with “preference” by Georgia-Pacific, which I can only presume (“presume” might be a good toilet paper name) is the next level up of “green” toilet paper.
I envision the day when my finances are such that I can always use “preference,” even though I don’t really prefer “preference.” In truth, I noticed no difference. Then again I don’t pay too much attention — despite my latest blogs — to toilet paper. Generally, at that time, I’m too busy envisioning other things.
Such as whether there’s another level of Georgia-Pacific toilet paper — with an even higher status than “preference.” I checked online, but I couldn’t find any. But I did learn that Georgia-Pacific’s jumbo-sized, public restroom toilet paper rolls are sold under the name “Acclaim,” which used to be the name of a model of Plymouth.
The Plymouth Acclaim — despite its name — bit the dust in 1995 after only six years on the market. I’m guessing the executives at Georgia-Pacific (and what brand of TP, I wonder, is used in the executive washrooms there?) took note and snapped up the name for their giant toilet paper roll, feeling it was deserving of such.
Posted by John Woestendiek July 30th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: acclaim, ace does america, advertising, dog's country, dogscountry, environment, envision, georgia pacific, green, marketing, motels, paper, plymouth, preference, products, road trip, toilet paper, travel, traveling with dogs