My dog Sydney has been my faithful companion for 12 years. Since having my son 4 years ago and working multiple jobs, I haven’t been the best companion to her. She doesn’t get enough long walks or the play time that she deserves. That doesn’t stop her from being my loyal protector and friend. Over the past year I have started to notice her energy levels dropping and her back legs giving out when she stands up. I worry about her when I’m at work or away on a trip because her anxiety increases when I pack a bag. I have no idea how she is doing when I am not at home and I am constantly concerned.
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It was about the time that my concern was mounting that I was presented with Whistle. I was hesitant to try it because it has been promoted as “Fitbit for dogs” and quite frankly I thought the device was going to quickly prove what a horrible dog owner I am. After some convincing I agreed to try it out.
Setup was a breeze (side note – anyone that cares about user experience should review Whistle’s device setup). The goal setting is a little different than wearable health tracking devices like Fitbit because you set a daily activity goal as opposed to the number of steps you want to take per day. I set the daily goal for walking my dog to 30 minutes…it seemed pretty doable and the average compared to dogs like Sydney.
Surprisingly, after a week or so I quickly began to realize that walking my dog for just 30 minutes per day was much more difficult to accomplish than I first realized. The big difference between hitting your personal Fitbit goals and your dog’s Whistle goals is that you don’t always have your dog with you. I walk to the train on my way to work, around the office, to grab coffee – all those things don’t involve my dog. My dog is at home all day, waiting for me to return.
After speaking to one of Whistle’s co-founders and head of product, Steve Eidelman, he suggested that the device isn’t as much about tracking the time with your dog, as it is about tracking when you aren’t with your dog. It gives you insight into what your dog is doing when you aren’t there. That includes what other people tasked with looking after your dog are also doing or not doing. My husband doesn’t walk the dog unless I specifically ask him, it’s not that he doesn’t like Sydney, he just doesn’t think about it because he knows I’ll do it. Something changed when I asked him to install the Whistle app, all of a sudden he became more aware of Sydney and her needs because he started receiving notifications about whether or not she hit her activity goals for the day. My husband is very motivated when he needs to hit goals and so it became a game for him.
What’s particularly interesting is the data that is being collected when dogs wear Whistle. It’s automatically cataloguing whats going on with your dog’s activity and rest patterns, and if an owner is so compelled they can log food and medication intake, add photos and take notes. With the combination of dog breed, sex, age and location paired with the activity information collected, the analysis that can be done on not just dogs, but specific breeds of dogs is something that every single canine researcher, veterinarian and pet company would love to get their hands on. The insight into behavior changes is what is particularly compelling to me because I have a senior dog.
With the recent integration with Jawbone’s UP platform, Whistle Labs will be conducting the largest study on the human-animal bond. They will have data to prove the quantitative impact that pets and humans have on each other. Imagine the impact on mental health studies that suggest pets are good for your health with proof to back it up.
Like my Fitbit, charging the Whistle is the biggest pain in the you know what. All the stars have to be aligned for me to charge the Whistle; I have to be at my desk, Sydney has to be on her bed near my desk, and I have to get the notification to remind me that the battery is low. In fact, I’m on the other side of the country right now getting notified that the Whistle needs to be charged. I wonder if my husband is seeing those notifications…
To be fair, the battery lasts longer than the Fitbit and you can pro-long the charge by not auto syncing and instead updating on occasion which reduces the how often data is transferred between the Whistle device and your iPhone.
It is noteworthy that the internet-of-things device includes both bluetooth for when you are nearby with your smartphone and wifi when you are away. It seems light enough to not bother my 60 pound dog but a tad too large to be comfortably worn by smaller breed dogs. There is an algorithm to track different types of movement using a three-axis accelerometer that is processing more data than is currently being made available through the app. One possibility is the early detection of impediments like hip dysplasia if the movements of the dog are tracked over time.
What would make me fall in love with this app
*My household relies heavily on internet-of-things and part of that setup includes IFTTT channels. Whistle needs to be a channel on IFTTT so I can log Sydney’s activity into my Google calendar, SMS me if the dog isn’t walked by a certain time, if no one is home and the temperature is higher than 80 degrees turn the A/C on.
*Obviously I want to see more insight into my dog’s behavior than sleep and rest and am particularly interested to know if her gait or behavior is changing which may lead me to consider taking her to the vet.
*I’d like to see integration with my dropcams. If the point of Whistle is to bring you closer to your pet, seeing a static photo of her when I load the Whistle app doesn’t do the job. I’d like a feature that notifies me if my dog is in front of the camera so I can say hi (which you can do thru dropcam). Another good case for IFTTT.
*Whistle seems to be the perfect way to locate my pet if she goes missing (assuming she is still wearing her collar).
*Integrating with a task application that let’s me assign dog related action items to my husband and son would also be useful. Task: Walk dog. And then I can see if they did it or not.
There are extraordinary insights that the Whistle app is collecting on the pets wearing their device. It serves as monitor for my dog when I’m away and is alerts me if her activity decreases. In the future it may help me communicate with her when I’m not home and alleviate her anxiety. It may even increase the bond my family and I have with her.