As more of us wear activity trackers — from Fitbits to Apple watches — to keep track of our daily fitness routines, it’s no surprise that we want to get the same kind of data about our dogs to help them live longer, happier and healthier lives. Activity trackers monitor our pups’ activity day and night via an app on a smartphone. The good news: There are a variety of canine activity trackers now available. But figuring out the perfect match for your pup can be a bit more of a challenge.
One of the most useful features of activity trackers is that they allow you to gather more information about what your dog is actually doing at different times of the day and night, even if you are not home or awake to supervise him. If you’re a sound sleeper, you might be surprised to learn that your dog is up and playing with toys at 2 a.m.! Similarly, while at work you can see how much of the day your dog is spending sleeping. Is he ready to play when you walk in the door because he hasn’t moved around a lot all day?
Each activity tracker brand is different, so find the one that is right for you and your dog. Most activity trackers focus on tracking a dog’s movement, but others — like Petpuls’ mood and activity tracker collar — use artificial intelligence for voice recognition technology to analyze your dog’s emotional state. CEO and Founder Vincent Kim explains that Petpuls breaks its analysis of a dog’s emotional state into five categories: happy, anxious, angry, sad or relaxed.
Activity trackers are most useful to us in tracking our dogs’ activity patterns over time. They give you an objective way of measuring if there are changes in your dog’s energy levels and activity.
Some trackers even directly communicate with your dog’s veterinarian by monitoring chronic health conditions.
Deena Betcher, head of communications for health, fitness and location tracker Whistle, explains that “Whistle monitors important indicators like scratching and licking to stay ahead of potential health issues. These results are easily compiled into a 30-day report that can be sent directly to a vet for analysis through the app.”
Activity trackers monitor other things your dog is doing through the day. Neil Lunn, activity and behavior monitor Animo’s product marketing manager notes, “Animo monitors a range of behaviors, such as barking, scratching and shaking, which when viewed together with activity, rest and sleep patterns, can give a more comprehensive overview of a dog’s health and well-being than activity alone.”
Surprisingly, activity trackers can even help you recognize issues coming up that you and your vet want to know about. If you notice that your dog is scratching more, you would take a closer look at your dog’s skin and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. But if your dog is scratching when you are asleep or not home, you’d have no way of knowing until hot spots or other sores developed. With activity trackers that monitor scratching, you can track increased activity and seek care for your dog before skin conditions develop.
Depending on the brand, activity trackers either attach to your dog’s collar or come attached with a collar. If you have a very small dog, find a tracker that won’t be cumbersome for him.
Thankfully, as the industry has grown, there is an activity tracker that will work for almost every dog from the smallest of breeds to giant dogs and every pup in between. They all rely on the same technology that is used in activity trackers for people.
“The Fi Collar holds the same accelerometer technology as a FitBit or an Apple Watch,” explains Fi smart dog collar CEO and co-founder, Jonathan Bensamoun.
Sara Rossi, co-founder and chief barketing officer for health, activity and GPS tracker FitBark, explains that the company leverages its experience working with hundreds of breeds — and mixed breeds — “at over 100 universities and research institutions in clinical settings and research studies.”
As the activity trackers become more popular, they continue to evolve and become more precise. That said, I’ve noticed with my own dog’s activity tracker that certain types of activity are more likely to cue as “playing” than “activity.” For example, running and chasing toys will show as play, but games like tug (her favorite) register as activity, not play.
When setting up your dog’s activity tracker, you will be prompted to fill out information about her breed or mix of breeds. You’ll also be asked information about your dog’s size, weight, age, etc. All this information is compiled into the app linked to your dog’s activity tracker.
With most activity trackers, this allows you to not only review your dog’s activity for a given day and over time, but also to compare your dog to dog friends you have linked profiles with and to anonymized data of other dogs of similar size, age and/or breed as your dog. Obviously don’t take this in place of veterinary advice about your dog’s physical activity level, but looking at your dog’s activity reports can help you gauge how your dog’s activity compares to other dogs and if you want to think about gently increasing your dog’s level of exercise.
What got me to finally buy an activity tracker for my own dog was the ability to have a GPS tracking device on her at all times. Not all activity trackers offer devices equipped with GPS tracking. The GPS functionality works in collaboration with a cellular network partner and your home Wi-Fi. For full functionality of the GPS device you will have a nominal (generally around $10) monthly subscription fee that gives you access to the cellular network to track your dog’s collar tracker. The GPS tracker connects into your home Wi-Fi or other Wi-Fi areas that you have programmed into the trackers’ associated app. For example, if your dog regularly accompanies you to a relative’s home or goes to doggie daycare, you can mark those locations as “safe.”
When your dog leaves your home, an alert is sent from the app to your phone and/or smartwatch. If your dog is with someone who has the app on her phone, like another guardian or a dog walker, the app will tell you who your dog is with. In the event your dog has left home on his own (scary!) the benefit of GPS tracking is that from your smartphone you’ll be able to pull up a map and pinpoint the location of your dog (assuming that there is cell signal) and hopefully be able to quickly find him.
As an engaged and attentive dog parent, having more information is always better. An activity tracker gives me ongoing information to use when developing training and exercise routines. Not to mention, the GPS locator. Even though I’ve thankfully never needed it, knowing we have it gives me a bit of extra peace of mind.
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