If there’s one thing you should know about my dog, Finley, it’s that she’s the sweetest pup in the world. If you’re curious to know one more thing about her, she has separation anxiety. Besides of her incredibly affectionate demeanor, her inability to be alone without becoming a ball of nerves is her most marked characteristic. So I’m always looking for ways to occupy her mind and provide an outlet for her energy with work-like tasks.
When I first came across the Smart Animal Training Systems Pet Tutor, I was fairly confident it would be a good way to meet Finley’s stamina while rewarding good behavior. It’s essentially an interactive feeder that can be triggered manually (via remote or smartphone) or programmed to auto-feed in intervals. It spits out anywhere from one to five or six pieces of kibble (and treats if you want to mix it up) whenever you choose based upon your dog’s behavior. Tell your dog to sit and then press a button so she’s rewarded with a piece of food. Or leave your dog at home with the feeder programmed to release the goods every 10 seconds.
Finley can be highly suspicious of anything new that comes into the house — be it a fancy toy or even a random inanimate object — but the fact that this device would feed her almost guaranteed she’d warm up to it. I started by feeding all of her meals from the Tutor’s reservoir. She caught on quickly and began to expect to find her sweet potato and fish kibble at the foot of the big blue tube every day.
Once Finley was accustomed to the Tutor as her primary food source, I started to incorporate it into our daily training. We do everything from out-of-the-room sit commands to relaxed down stays, in which she has to wait up to 10 minutes for a treat. Like any dog with anxiety issues, getting Finley focused on a job to tire her out means she’s generally less tense. And having the Pet Tutor not only meant I didn’t have to run to the kitchen every few minutes for a new batch of treats, it also allowed me gradually distance myself from Finley. I could be in another part of the house while she sat or lay patiently waiting for the Tutor to work its magic. She no longer wanted to follow me around in hopes of getting something tasty.
Soon, I was using the Pet Tutor to keep her occupied for feedings downstairs while I was upstairs caring for our 6-month-old baby. Finley is highly food motivated, so the device easily held her attention, especially when I used the open end so that kibble would shoot out onto the floor. This gave the meal a foraging element because the bits scattered everywhere for my pooch to find.
I also got Finley hooked on the feeder whenever we sat down to dinner. She’s gotten in the habit of begging at the table, especially when we have company and she’s hoping they’re the generous type, so I started waiting to feed her dinner until we began to eat. She soon became so obsessed with the Pet Tutor that she would find it around the house (I put it away when we weren’t using it) and paw at it to feed her.
Beyond its use as a training tool and delivering kibble in a slow, piecemeal fashion, the Pet Tutor can be attached to your dog’s crate to make spending time in there more enjoyable. If the dog is barking, the Tutor clams up, but once he’s quiet, he’ll be rewarded with food. You can even put the motion-sensitive remote inside a toy and train your dog to nose or paw it to trigger the feeder.
Dogster scorecard for the Pet Tutor
Quality: A. Simply put, the device works flawlessly. It never failed to feed my pup, and I could trust it to do its job when I was out of the room.
Style: Don’t expect to receive any interior design compliments for the Pet Tutor. It looks like the functional feeder it is.
Function: The Tutor holds up to five cups of edibles and is relatively easy to operate with its three-button remote.
Creativity: You can place the feeder on the floor or a tabletop, hang it from a tree in your backyard, or clip it onto your dog’s crate. The creators thought of practically every scenario for feeding and training your pet.
Value: The Pet Tutor technology starts at $349, so you have to be confident that you’ll get a lot of use out of it and that your pooch truly needs it.
The Pet Tutor is top of the line and not for the casual pet parent. But if you have a dog who needs a lot of attention or becomes a nervous mess when left alone or crated, this automatic pet feeder could definitely be worth the investment.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites includingStrollerTraffic, Brides.com, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with her dog, Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by). She and her husband (and Finley, too) welcomed a baby girl named Rowan in August.