Over the past year, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by multitudes of wearable tech and how they might apply to veterinary medicine. It all started with my husband, who works in the tech industry, and his obsession with his Fitbit.
“I’ve walked eight miles today,” he’ll tell me. I nod. “That’s five more than your dad.”
“OK,” I say, and go back to my book.
“I woke up ten times last night,” he says. I shrug.
“You should get one,” he tells me, and I ask him why I would want to know how many times I woke up. He has no answer. He bought me one for Christmas because he was sure I just needed to own one to fall in love with it, and I wore it until the initial charge wore off and then forgot to recharge it. So take my opinion of this stuff with a grain of salt.
My first experience with wearable tech for dogs came from one of the first GPS monitors that came on the market. I was part of a focus group where we were presented with an early version and asked what we thought of it. While the various people in the focus group oohed and aahed over the things it could do, I had only one comment:
“It’s ugly. It looks like a shock collar.”
They didn’t like my response, but they don’t know the market like I do. The people who come into my clinic, for the most part, don’t care about bells and whistles when it comes to dog paraphernalia — they care about how something looks. I know this because I feel the same way. No one’s going to risk putting something that looks like a shock collar on their dog and going to the park to be judged.
Sure enough, the product showed up on the market a year later, now available in a series of palatable pastels.
The next focus group I was a part of asked me what I thought of a spiffy new feature that allowed people to track how active their pet was during the day.
“Nice,” I said. “But people aren’t going to use it.”
“But it’s such valuable information!” they said, and they weren’t wrong. “It will help pets lose weight!”
And I laughed, because they’ve just hit on how Weight Watchers manages to stay in business year after year.
“People might use it for a month,” I said. “But they’re not going to log in to check their pet’s calorie burn every day. They don’t even do that for themselves.”
Regardless of my luddite opinions, technology marches on. Now you can track your dog with your phone, view them at home from your iPad, and even monitor their resting heart rate while you’re on a business trip. I am still waiting on the must-have device.
My husband was, of course, very impressed with all of them. “So what happens,” he asks, “when you put a tracker on the pet and they find out their pet needs to be more active? They’re grateful, right?”
“Actually,” I said, “they just turn off the tracker.” I speak from experience.
I do think these devices have a place, either as a novelty or in specific applications; recovery from surgery, for example, or for tracking working dogs. I am sure there will be some highly motivated owners who do wonderful things with these devices.
But the average person out there, like me, may not be quite there yet in terms of being sold on doggie tech, despite what excited engineers promised at the Consumer Electronics Show. If you give me one that speaks like Dug from Up, I’m there. In the meantime, I’m keeping the dog offline.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Image: Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock