Working Smarter: Smart Technology in All Categories of Petcare

May 31, 2017

It’s no secret that people love their pets. In the United States alone, 79.7 million households own a pet, according to the 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association (APPA) Pet Owner’s Survey. That’s millions of people who, more or less every day, must complete tasks that one can safely assume are not necessarily fun for pet owners but necessary for their beloved companions’ survival.

Perhaps the majority of technologically advanced pet tech products aim to make pet ownership increasingly convenient, allowing humans to more completely enjoy time spent with pets, and have more of that quality time available. From feeders to automatic toys to smart waste management solutions, technology has permeated almost every category of care for pets, particularly cats and dogs.

Retailers can best sell such products by learning customers’ needs and assigning which devices can address those.

“Retailers need to help educate consumers by truly understanding the products themselves,” said Peter Ostapowicz, marketing communications specialist at OurPets. “This way, store staff can ask consumers the right questions to really understand how they use their current products and then add in how a high-tech version will benefit them [or not be appropriate].

“For instance, if a consumer’s cat has a history of elimination problems, their normal litter box will not be able to record their cat’s bathroom behavior, and they will have to keep close watch,” he explained. “But a high-tech litter box like the SmartScoop Intelligent Litter Box will be able to track the consumer’s cat’s interactions with the box and will alert the consumer if there is a deviation from the cat’s normal behavior.”

Breaking Bad Habits
According to APPA, three-quarters of dog owners use some type of training agent. The training and behavior modification segment of the pet tech product landscape has been seeing technological advance for some time now, perhaps due to the electronic nature of the products.

Black Dog Manufacturing, a company that specializes in training products, operates first and foremost from a place of understanding.

“We understand that relationships require hard work and understanding, especially between humans and our canine companions,” the company stated on its website. “Just like us, dogs can develop bad habits and these bad habits can put a strain on your relationship.”

In order to improve the relationships between humans and canines that might be struggling with problematic behavior, Black Dog Manufacturing has developed two lines of training and bark control products: Happy Hound dog training collars and Bark Buddy bark collars.

The Bark Buddy line includes three devices with ranging prices and feature lists. The Buddy’s Classic system can be used with dogs wOur Pets SmartLink Waterer - Intelligent Water Fountain Dogeighing 15 pounds and up, with seven training levels and two training modes tailored to a range of temperaments and behaviors. The Hush Puppy collar system can be used with dogs starting at 10 pounds and comes equipped with seven training levels and five sensitivity levels. It’s waterproof, so it’s the ideal option for pet owners on the go, especially during trips to a pool, lake or beach.

Finally, the Bark Buddy Platinum Plus Rechargeable has six training levels, seven adjustable sensitivity levels and is also waterproof. It has a Humane Vibration warning feature and rechargeable batteries, among several other design and ease-of-use features. All three products come with a pet protection mode to prevent over stimulation and allow dogs to bark during urgent situations.

For training purposes, the Happy Hound line includes three products at different price points and additional features, covering every user’s need. The Yard Ranger 330 is suitable for dogs over 20 pounds and features 16 stimulation and vibration training levels as well as tone training modes. It’s water resistant and has a range of up to—you guessed it—330 yards. The Platinum Series Rechargeable has the ability to work with two collars, though additional purchase is required. It can be used with dogs starting at 10 pounds, works on two-hour rechargeable lithium batteries, and contains 100 levels of vibration and standard tone options and 100 levels of static stimulation.

Lastly, the RangeMax 650 has an extended range of 650 yards. Features include 16 stimulation and vibration training levels as well as tone modes, deluxe quick release lanyard, expansion capabilities for two dogs, rapid charge batteries and exclusive digital download of training videos featuring renowned trainer Phillip Paris.

Jason Dooley of Black Dog Manufacturing emphasizes the importance of training resources when selling his company’s products.

“All these items… even in the hands of a person with good intentions, who doesn’t know how to use it properly, there’s room for abuse—there’s room for misuse,” he said. “And so, a retailer can go to a consumer and say, ‘Listen, when you buy this [Black Dog Manufacturing] product, you’re going to get very intensive training that you can watch on a video that will show you how to properly use this product—really, how to use it as little as possible.”

Also on the market is PetSafe’s SMART DOG Trainer system, which includes a remote training collar and is controlled from users’ smartphones. Many of PetSafe’s newest products, from trainers to feeders, are accompanied by an app.

“PetSafe Brand is about living happily together with pets,” said Melissa Poisson, senior director at PetSafe. “The ‘smart,’ or connected, products give pet parents the ability to interact through their phone with their pets.”

Appropriate for dogs weighing at least eight pounds, it has 15 levels of static correction as well as tone and vibration options, and has a range of up to 75 yards. The collar is waterproof and uses rechargeable batteries. The app is free to download and connects to collars using a PIN to ensure that other apps will not be able to connect.

Not all dogs exhibiting disruptive behavior do so to the same degree, so some owners need a product to grab a dog’s attention. For those looking to reign in a companion who becomes overly excited and distracted—for example, during walks at the sight of another animal—there’s Doggie Don’t.

“We highly recommend working with professional dog trainers, but also understand that not all dog owners have the time and resources to work with a professional trainer,” the company’s mission statement states. “We are hoping that the Doggie Don’t Device can help.”

The handheld audible device helps avert dogs’ attention to the user, breaking up excessive barking, jumping, counter surfing and leash aggression. The crackling sound is activated with the touch of one button, and the device—equipped with a wrist strap—is small enough to fit in a purse or pocket.

From Play to Potty
It’s a fact of life that pet owners have jobs and other responsibilities that may require them to leave their pets in the home alone for at least short periods of time during each day. In fact, in 2014, a majority of pet owners had to leave their pets alone in the home while they were at work—specifically, 51 percent of dogs and 57 percent of cats. Luckily, technological advances have improved pet owners’ ability to keep in touch with and care for their pets while thPetsafe ScoopFree® Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box 2ey are away, especially with the advent of smartphone apps.

From mealtime to bathroom breaks—and playtime in between—automated features make pet care more convenient, precise and continuous than ever before. And as with most pet products, the best way to communicate these exciting capabilities is through demonstration.

“The most effective way to sell these products is to understand how they fit into and simplify customers’ lives,” Poisson said. “Retailers can demonstrate the product while sharing this information.”

PetSafe’s digital Two Meal Pet Feeder has an easy-to-read display for a timer that knows when to dispense one to two meals within a one- to 99-hour period, depending on pet owners’ choice. The device’s locking lids keep food fresh and safe from pet break-ins, and the trays that can hold up to 1.5 cups of dry food are removable and dishwasher safe. For even tech-savvier pet owners, there’s the Smart Feed from PetSafe. It’s controlled by a smartphone app, which can send users alerts, making the Smart Feed controllable from anywhere. It can yield up to 12 meals on a set schedule and allows for much more flexibility in portion size.

Besides convenience, the beauty of many of these products is the fact that they can learn a pet’s habits and alert owners if they change, as this could signal a health issue.

“Our Intelligent Pet Care line of products with smart technology increase the level of communication between pet parents and their pets,” Ostapowicz said. “Pets can’t talk, and these products help bridge the communication gap, giving pet parents a better understanding of how their pet is doing through monitoring health indicators like elimination, feeding and drinking. If your pet breaks their habits and starts to act unusual, these products will know and send you a notification to your smartphone letting you know that there may be something going on with your pet.”

OurPets produces a range of feeders and fountains. The SmartLink Feeder is an intelligent bowl recommended for multiple-pet homes, as it comes paired with a SmartLink Tag to sense when pets are near the bowl and looking to eat. It monitors feeding behavior, including frequency and duration, and its stainless steel bowl is removable and dishwasher safe.

The SmartLink Portion Feeder, on the other hand, takes the technology one step further. It can be controlled via a smartphone app, which tracks and notifies owners of pets’ health and food intake, and also comes with a SmartLink Tag. Its MetalShield bowl is also removable for washing, and the dispenser can yield programmed portions of food ranging up to three cups. The SmartLink Waterer is also paired with a SmartLink Tag, which will trigger the device to dispense Universal Carbon Filtered running water. It monitors drinking behavior, frequency and duration, and is able to alert owners when it is running low or needs maintenance. It holds up to 64 full ounces.

A cross between visual monitors and automatic feeders, the gosh! easyFeed is equipped with a webcam, allowing pet owners to check in with pets while out of the home during their mealtime. It has food and water dispensers and video chat capability (with microphone), and pet owners can set and manage feeding schedules, review data on pets’ diets and check in on them via the webcam, all from a mobile app paired with the device.

Fun with Technology
It might be argued that mealtime is becoming one of the most technologically advanced aspects of our furry companions’ lives. But that’s not to say tech companies don’t know how to have fun; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Technology is changing the way pet owners play with their pets, even allowing them to do so remotely as well as capture their time together and share it.

Eyenimal offers several camera devices that allow for hands-free and outdoor time with pets without sacrificing the ability to capture those moments. As with any technological product (for human or pet), they must have the
ability to not only capture memories, but share them, too.

“What is good for humans is good for animals,” said Guylaine Galland, a shareholder with the company. “Our goal is to help bring a better quality of life to pets, while simplifying the lives of their owners with communication and connected products.”

The Num’axes Camera Glasses have three sets of interchangeable polarized lenses which house a discreet camera to take pictures and record HD video. It’s also equipped with Bluetooth so users can listen to music and answer phone calls.

The company’s Sport Camera from the Num’axes brand features a 16mp CMOS Sony image sensor, a 4K recorder for HD video and a two-inch LCD screen. It can be synced to smartphones via Wi-Fi for easy sharing and viewing. Additionally, the Mini Trail Camera is compactly designed, and its infrared flash with no-glow LEDs allow users to discreetly take photos without scaring off wildlife. The device is also equipped with time lapse mode for pet owners that enjoy long hikes with Fido.

“At Eyenimal, we are constantly working on invention and innovation with a start-up spirit,” Galland said. “It is our goal to be on the cutting edge and to quickly react to market demands. The dev
elopment of pet technology has huge potential, according to the great demands from pet’s owners who want their pet to be even better behaved, happier and connected with them as owners.”

Combining the fun of treats and play are two products from gosh! For more fun outdoors, the SmartPult ball launcher and treat dispenser rewards dogs for owners and can be set to operate automatically or manually with an app. With its three launch settings, it can actually be used indoors as well.
After a long day of playing outside, the easyPaw from gosh! is likely to be a valuable device for anyone whose pets tend to track mud or other traces of the outdoors into their homes and cars. The device has a built-in motor to create water spin to clean paws quickly and easily. It also has a multi-function storage container where owners can store towels for drying off or treats for energy replenishment.

Once indoors, there’s no need for playtime to end. The easyPlay slowly treats dogs and cats throughout the day according to their owner’s settings. It’s a robotic remote ball with a built-in treats dispenser that can also monitor pets’ motion and activity. Users can set activity goals and use the two-way audio to talk to their pets throughout the day. It’s powered by Wi-Fi and can be set to automatic or manual mode, controlled by a smartphone app.

In addition to mealtime and playtime, waste management is becoming increasingly automated as to lift the burden of the most daunting parts of pet care from the shoulders of pet owners, specifically those with cats.

The SmartScoop intelligent litter box from OurPets uses Bluetooth technology to monitor pets’ behavior, frequency and duration and alegosh easyplayrts owners when the device requires maintenance. Like all other OurPets smart products, the SmartScoop is tied to a SmartLink tag, so it knows when other animals, like the family dog, is near. It comes with four Universal No-Touch Waste Bags.

Petsafe’s ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box has a health counter that tracks usage and alerts pet owners if there seems to be a health issue arising. The box’s automatic rake can be set to clean itself five, 10 or 20 minutes after it’s used. It affords owners weeks of no scooping, cleaning or refilling and uses disposable trays that are pre-filled with crystal litter, which “controls odor five times better than clay litter,” according to the company’s catalog. The ScoopFree Ultra also features a hood for added privacy and reduced litter tracking.

For customers looking for an especially hands-off waste management solution, the CatGenie is a full-size, automatic litter box that is self-flushing and self-cleaning. It hooks up to cold water intake from a sink, toilet or washing machine, and the drain hose hooks over the toilet rim or drain pipe behind a washing machine, according to the company’s website. The set-up is simple, and the hoses are provided. The CatGenie works with self-washing granules that sift out waste so the machine can liquefy and dispose of it via the drain hose. It uses no cat litter and is recommended to be cleaned just twice a year for maintenance.

Where Are They Now?
With technology breaking into the pet product pool, pet owners are able to monitor their pets in ways previously unimaginable. This affords today’s pets an increased level of health and safety—and their owners an extra bit of reassurance. And for retailers who might need some reassurance themselves, the pet wearable category is where to look. In a report published by Grand View Research, Inc., in 2016, the global pet wearable market was predicted to reach $2.36 billion by 2022.

For owners looking to keep Fido or their indoor/outdoor cat from wandering too far from home, there’s the Pawz Away Outdoor Pet Barrier from Petsafe. It’s a barrier transmitter disguised as a rock to blend seamlessly with the landscaping of users’ lawns, covering up to a 16-foot diameter and 8-foot radius. While one collar is included, consumers can add as many collars as they need through extra purchases, as the one Pawz Away device is compatible with unlimited collars. Other options include the company’s YardMax Rechargeable In-Ground Fence and YardMax Receiver Collar, which transmits static correction when a pet moves outside of the device’s boundaries, which owners install.

For inside the home, the Pawz Away line also offers a Threshold Pet Barrier that blocks pets from stairs and doorways. It’s mountable, portable and compatible with Pawz Away and YardMax receiver collars. These products offer customers a way to keep pets out of certain rooms or levels of a house as seamlessly as possible.

Black Dog Manufacturing’s Find My Pet GPS locators allow for real time tracking and provide instant alerts to owners when their pets’ locations have changed. Pet owners can use the Classic 2.0 model to designate safe areas for their pets to explore. Once the pet exits these locations, the pet owner is notified and the animal’s location is tracked while it is outside. The newest version, Find my Pet Nano, is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, allowing it to track outdoors as well as inside any structures. It’s also waterproof and rechargeable.

Speaking on his company’s training and tracking products, Dooley emphasized the advantages that come along with selling pet tech through independent brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Our focus right now is on trying to deal with small retailers and really help them,” Dooley said. “We really feel that our products are best represented in that environment, where they can be properly taught and properly explained.”

For pet owners who are curious about their pet’s activity while they’re away, there’s the Pet Data Recorder from pet tech company Eyenimal. Suitable for dogs and cats, the device—which only weighs 12 grams—can record information like geographic coordinates and velocity for up to eight hours in a continually active state. Otherwise, its rechargeable battery lasts 48 hours on standby. Users can transfer and store the data to any computer with a USB port.

With the advent of such technology, it’ll be easier than ever before to gather information difficult to ascertain even in a veterinarian’s office. More information means better service—and better service means an improved quality of life for pets and pet owners alike.

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