Tech it Out!
Electronic wizardry is redesigning the relationship between people and their pets.
Pat Brown can personally attest to how technology is changing life for the pet parent—and the pet—for the better.
On March 26, Brown adopted Barkley, a 10-week old Miniature Dachshund. While he got along fine with Elijah, her other Dachshund, and Bella, Elijah’s visiting girlfriend, trouble started when he was put in his crate for the evening to go to sleep.
“He would start crying and he would cry until he fell asleep. I felt really bad,” the Toms River, N.J. resident recalls.
So, Brown did some research and invested in a Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy—a stuffed dog with a battery operated “heart” featuring a “real-feel” pulsing heartbeat and a heat source to mimic being part of a pack.
“It has really been a godsend,” she says. “He now goes right in at night, snuggles up to it and I don’t hear a peep out of him until the morning.”
This is just one example of how technology is forever changing how Americans are caring for their pets. Other advancements include high-tech leashes, collars, feeding bowls, water fountains, doors, beds and a phone full of apps. They are not only reshaping consumers’ homes, habits and routines—but the nation’s pet shops as well.
The new line of beds from Petrics, Inc., for example, offer far more bells and whistles to dogs than their master’s Craftmatic or Sleep Number counterparts.
To help pets live longer and healthier lives, Petrics launched what it bills as the world’s first Smart Pet Bed, Activity Tracker and pet Health and Nutrition app at January’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Available in small, medium and large versions with a washable and replaceable cover, the Petrics Smart Pet Bed tracks a pet’s weight, rest and activity. It includes a built-in scale, and is the first bed to offer thermostatic heating and cooling, allowing the user to automatically or manually adjust to the ideal temperature for each pet based on breed, environment and geographic location.
“We are really trying to improve the pet obesity problem,” says Kristopher Johnson, director of marketing at Wilmington, N.C.-based Petrics, Inc. “With over 53 percent of pets in the U.S. being obese, statistics show that at least 2.5 years are cut off their lives because of obesity and certain related medical conditions.”
Petrics can be tied in with Google’s Alexa and other connected home technologies. The Smart Pet Bed and Activity Tracker communicate with the Petrics Health and Nutrition app, creating a pet health ecosystem that allows pet parents to monitor and track pets’ health and nutrition data, get food and diet recommendations, and share findings with other family members, pet sitters and veterinarians.
“Our connected product can help identify issues by raising a red flag to veterinarians with the information that we pull,” Johnson says.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based PetSafe is also improving the lives of pets with several high-tech devices, including electric water fountains in plastic, stainless steel and ceramic variations; self-cleaning litter boxes and electronic fences.
“Pets love fresh, clean water and need one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day,” says Justin Young, marketing specialist at PetSafe. “PetSafe pet fountains help pet parents keep their dogs and cats healthy and hydrated by enticing pets to drink more, and keeping their water fresh by constantly filtering and circulating it to keep out hair and debris and inhibit bacteria growth.”
The company also offers filters and other accessories to keep the fountains in excellent condition, he adds.
PetSafe’s automatic litter boxes eliminate the dirty job of cleaning the litter box, while offering cats a constant supply of clean, fresh litter. “Our PetSafe ScoopFree Self-Cleaning Litter Box line uses disposable litter trays, and rake away waste after cats use the box,” Young says. “Cat owners can throw out the litter tray and replace it with a new one every few weeks, so they never have to scoop, touch or smell messy waste again.
“Our Simply Clean Automatic Litter Box continuously cleans by constantly, but slowly, rotating. Making one full rotation per hour, it moves clumps of litter and waste up a ramp and conveyor belt into a waste bin for easy disposal.”
Cat and Mousr
After the cat is done using her self-cleaning litter box, she may wish to go play with a Mousr by Petronics—a robotic mouse with artificial intelligence so good at playing cat-and-mouse, it won the Best New Cat Product award at Global Pet Expo.
“One of the neat things about Mousr is his tail,” says David Cohen, co-founder of Petronics, based in Champagne, Ill. “When cats play with Mousr, they almost always and exclusively chase after his tail. His tail is motorized, so it can flip and move on its own, and it is interchangeable. We have several different types, including springy tails, string tails and attachments like fur, feathers and catnip.”
Pet parents can connect Mousr to their smartphone via a free app and set up an auto mode so that cats can play with Mousr while home alone, or consumers can use the app to drive the Mousr themselves. “You can create new ways to engage your cat than the standard stick and string,” Cohen says. “Cats have an instinct to hunt, but with most of their toys, either a person has to play it with them, or they are automated but not reactive. The ability to sense and react is really important to a cat. It makes them feel like they are hunting something.”
While today’s tech savvy cats are going for Mousrs, their canine compatriots are busy playing iFetch—an automatic ball launcher for small and medium dogs, and the iFetch Too version for larger breeds. There is also an iFetch Frenzy brain game for small to medium-sized dogs. Dogs quickly learn to take the blue iFetch tennis-style balls and drop them into the hopper for a non-stop game of fetch. The battery-operated units are portable so they can be played with almost anywhere.
“All of our iFetch products can be used both indoors and outdoors,” says Denny Hamill, CEO of Austin, Texas-based iFetch. “The iFetch Too ball launcher for larger dogs launches up to 40 feet, perfect for the park or backyard. We see videos of dog owners setting the iFetch launchers up in their hallway, basement, on their porch—everywhere, really.”
Some retailers have found success building an in-store display of iFetch products to demo in the front of the store, creating retail theater, Hamill notes. “If retailers purchase an iFetch intro pack containing an assortment of all three products, we include a free demo product, and a free video player containing a loop of iFetch videos, which is a key selling tactic in-store and online,” he says.
Thanks to Michelle Winowich, pets can now “talk” to their owners and other passersby. She is the founder of G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) Pet Speakers—a small Bluetooth speaker in a dog, cat or bird design that can connect to a collar, leash, lanyard or birdcage, and by using a related app allows pet parents to give their pet a voice. It is so novel it got an investment deal on Shark Tank.
The voices come in male or female Siri-style robotic voices, or can be customized with the pet parent’s own voice. Several languages or accents are also available, French for a French Bulldog, for example.
“If you are at the dog park, your dog can greet his friends by name,” Winowich says. “Some of the younger single guys think it is a great way to pick up chicks. The dog can walk up to a girl and say, ‘Hey, my friend thinks you’re cute.’ The dog can also walk up to you when you are in the house and say, ‘It is time for me to go out.’”
“Our NightLight LED collar and leash are the brightest and most secure on the market today,” says Len Horowitz, founder/CEO. They feature a USB rechargeable battery, have water resistant properties and can be lit at night with the push of a button. “Our new Series II is launching at SuperZoo and is super charged with so many features and benefits it will be a must-have,” he says.
Those benefits include a red, green and blue LED, offering three colors in one collar.
“We have increased our USB battery charge to last for 15 hours, almost twice as long as our Series I, and we have made our product completely waterproof. Now a dog can go swim in a pool or lake at night and make their own light show as they frolic in the water,” Horowitz says, adding that the new version will also simplify life for retailers. “By creating our RGB (red, green, blue) LED collar, we reduced the number of SKUs from 16 down to three and only one SKU for the leash. This will allow for greater turns on inventory and eliminate the impossible task of choosing the correct color and size to carry.”
Smart Connected Home System
Wagz, Inc. started with the idea of a smart dog collar, but has evolved into a smart-connected home system that works within one app.
“Our Smart Dog Collar is a location tracker, so it tracks your dog’s GPS location, but it is so much more,” says Colleen Daigle, chief marketing officer of the Portsmouth, N.H.-based Wagz, Inc. “We use geo fencing technology with humane determents, so it works as an invisible fence as well. It is also an invisible leash that is ideal for hiking in safe areas.”
Other neat features of the Smart Dog Collar include a live video camera option allowing the owner to see through the app from the dog’s point of view, as well as “barking alerts” that show up on the smartphone to alert a consumer to see what the dog is barking at when they are not home.
Wagz’s latest addition is an automatic feeder that ensures the dog is getting the proper amount of nutrition whether or not someone is home.
“When you pair the feeder with the collar, it brings in activity levels of what your dog has done throughout the day. We track activity levels and calories burned, so you can make sure you are feeding your dog the right amount of food based on what they have done that day,” Daigle says.
Wagz is now launching its own line of food under the Whello brand. “This is the first food that works with the automated feeder,” Daigle says. “It is packaged in a box, similar to a K-Cup, that the consumer pops into the feeder and the food is dispensed. It also features a hopper attachment, so you can use your favorite brand of kibble. Our food is made in America, is soy-, grain- and dairy-free, and allows the consumer to no longer have to lug around huge bags.”
With their high-tech components, many of the latest pet gadgets are being sold in specialty retailers like Brookstone, as well as Best Buy and other electronics big box stores. Pet stores that stock them can help win back some of those sales being lost to new channels, manufacturers say. PB