For many homeowners with pets, going on vacation or out of town for a few days means dropping Fido off at the “pet motel.” However, that reality is changing. Over one-quarter of U.S. consumers have more than three Smart Home devices, many of which can be used to keep Fido secure and happy while they’re away.
What is a Smart Home?
Coldwell Banker and CNET teamed up in 2016 to develop a definition for the term “smart home.” This need sprang from repeated use of the term by real estate agents to upsell homes around the country. Understandably, home buyers (and some real estate agents) were confused as to what a smart home was supposed to do that made it so “smart.”
According to Coldwell Banker and CNET, a smart home is defined as:
“A home that is equipped with network-connected products for controlling, automating and optimizing functions such as temperature, lighting, security, safety or entertainment, either remotely by a phone, tablet, computer, or a separate system within the home itself.”
To be classified as a smart home, the property must have either a device that controls access to the home (monitors the property) or a programmable thermostat to control the temperature inside the house. It must also include at least two of the following:
- Smart lighting (bulbs and lighting systems)
- Safety features such as smart fire or carbon monoxide detectors and night lights
- Entertainment (smart TVs and streaming devices)
- Smart appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers
- Heating and cooling systems (smart HVAC, fans or vents)
- Automated sprinkler systems for the lawn
- Security features such as smart locks, alarm systems or cameras
- Temperature control (smart thermometers)
How Can Smart Technology Protect My Pet?
Most pet owners would agree that technology shouldn’t be used as a replacement for human companionship. Dogs, in particular, can suffer when left alone for long periods. However, there are some smart products that can reduce that stress. These products help protect your pet, provide comfort, reduce the number of trips to the kennel (and the associated expense), and even provide an opportunity for play when you’re not home.
Smart technology options that benefit pet owners specifically include:
- Automatic dog feeders
- Treat dispensers
- Smart thermostats
- Automatic fetch machines
- Electronic dog doors
- Electronic dog fences
- Automated door locks
A recent study by DogVacay points out that roughly 80 percent of pet owners feel guilty when leaving their pets home alone. The study also determined that 20 percent of dog owners worry their pet will injure itself while they’re away. Smart homes help reduce that guilt and fear by giving pet parents the opportunity to check in on their furry friends regularly with the touch of a button on their smartphone.
Pet Tech is on the Rise
The American Pet Products Association reports that nearly two-thirds of American households have pets. Americans spent roughly $70 billion dollars on their pets in 2017, and not just for food. Smart devices that let your pet call you, play games, and receive treats are being purchased more frequently as technology improves.
Of the $70 billion spent on pets in 2017, about $15 billion was allocated to the “supplies and over-the-counter medicine” category. This includes pet tech products. PC magazine says that humans shouldn’t be “the only ones benefiting from wearables, remotely delivered food, [and] even video conferencing with those we love most.”
One of the more recent advances is the advent of pet-related apps for IOS and Android users. Now, pet owners can track their runaway dog, schedule a dog walker, and even “talk” to their pets in their language. All of these apps and many more are available for anyone with a smartphone or tablet and a connection to the internet.
Smart Gadgets For Your Dog
If you travel or vacation away from home a lot, you’re probably already sold on the idea of automating your home to keep Fido comfortable while you’re gone. Not only do the devices below make your dog’s life easier, but they offer greater security for your home as well. All of this translates to less worry (and guilt) about what your dog’s doing “behind the scenes.”
Designed by veterinarians and pet trainers, dog cameras work very similar to baby cams. They allow the pet parent to see their dog and receive alerts if something’s amiss. They also allow the dog to see it’s human, which can reduce anxiety and stress.
Many dog cameras will also dispense treats, a feature that presents a sense of comfort and normalcy for the dog. Pet owners can even talk to their dogs through two-way communication. This has a soothing effect as well, especially if the dog is barking incessantly.
Some of the higher end camera models will have night vision and extra-wide fields of view. HD (1080p) is just as common now in these cameras as it is in baby cams. If your dog likes to sit near the camera waiting to get your attention, the more advanced AI cameras will detect his presence and alert you.
A doggie cam is one of the most useful smart home devices you can own. Catching potentially dangerous situations in progress will allow you to call for help before things get out of hand. You can even use these cameras as training devices to keep pets off furniture or reduce barking.
Automatic Dog Feeders
There are plenty of reasons to own an automatic dog feeder, aside from ensuring your dog is fed properly while you’re out of town. Many people need help remembering to feed their dog. If that’s the case, these devices can save time and help you avoid the dreaded puppy dog eyes when you forget to fill your pup’s food bowl.
The most useful feature of automated dog feeders is their ability to dispense controlled portions at certain times of the day. This is especially valuable for parents of overeaters. Some pet feeders can be programmed to spill out proper portions up to 12 times per day, thus reducing your dog’s desire (or ability) to eat it all in one sitting.
Many automatic feeders will send you alerts when your dog visits his food bowl. If the feeder is equipped with a camera, you can see your dog during meal times. Your smartphone will allow you to sync feeding times, record videos, and even speak to your pet.
These high-tech food bowls also secure your dog’s food to prevent “accidental” spills. They are built to withstand tough puppy paws scratching at them for more food. Most of the newer feeders are not prone to jamming or other malfunctions, which has been a problem in the past.
Automated treat dispensers are often used as training devices for young dogs or those that struggle with certain behavioral issues. They can be programmed to automatically dispense treats every few seconds to encourage positive reactions to crates, grooming, or being left alone. They can also be used when training dogs to obey specific commands.
When pet owners are away, the more advanced treat dispensers allow dogs to see their owners via a camera that connects wirelessly to a smartphone. Owners can issue commands as they would normally and reward their furry friends for positive behavior. This goes a long way towards maintaining consistent routines even when you’re not home.
Automatic Fetch Machines
These handy machines encourage exercise even when you’re not home to play fetch with your four-legged friend. Most are designed the same way with an open hole on top where your dog can drop the ball. The machine spits the ball back out, Fido fetches it, and the cycle continues until your dog tires or the machine’s batteries die.
Launch distances for fetch machines vary depending on the manufacturer. Some are designed for indoor play and will only launch or roll the ball 10 feet. Others can be adjusted for outdoor play, with programmed launch distances of 25 to 40 feet. For shorter distances, machines will roll the ball rather than shooting it to prevent possible damage.
Automatic fetch machines are typically portable and battery-operated. They can be moved around your home to allow for a greater variety of play patterns. With rechargeable batteries, they are also easy on the environment.
Electronic Dog Doors
An electronic doggie door allows your dog to come and go as it pleases. This is a must-have for the frequent traveler. For pet owners with securely-fenced backyards, it’s a very effective way to provide bathroom and exercise breaks for your pup while you’re away from home.
These small doors can be permanently or temporarily installed, depending on the model you purchase. They vary in size to accommodate larger breeds if needed. Many models provide multiple smart keys to allow all of your pets access.
Many dog doors have multi-directional sensing and won’t unlock unnecessarily if your dog happens to take a nap near them. Multiple access controls allow your pup full access, locked, out-only, or in-only. A deadbolt lock is also available to secure the door against intruders.
Microchip pet doors work with your dog’s existing microchip to allow access. This may be preferable to a collar system, as collars can be removed or lost. Many dog doors are motor driven and automatically open and close for your pet, preventing stray animals from wandering into your home.
Electronic Fences for Dogs
For well-trained dogs living in safe neighborhoods, installation of electronic fences can be a less expensive option when compared to privacy or chain link fences. This also allows dogs to come and go through an electronic dog door. One of the most appreciated benefits of electric fences, aside from the lower cost, is the technology we see associated with the newer models today.
Many of the higher end electric fences are wireless, meaning there’s no need to bury wires or install wiring above ground. This makes the old complaint that it took forever to install these systems obsolete. With a wireless fence, you simply place the central hub in your home, and your dog is bound to whatever boundary you establish.
The receiver is attached to your pet’s collar and offers multiple levels of correction depending on the model you purchase. If your dog is a bit thicker around the neck and resistant to lower settings, you can program the collar to a higher setting. Most electric fences allow you to have multiple pets on the same frequency, so there’s no need to buy more than one unit.
Boundaries can be set to various distances, depending on the manufacturer and sensitivity of the model you purchase. Some collars have rechargeable batteries that last quite a while. They might not need to be recharged for up to three weeks, especially if your dog doesn’t test the boundaries too much.
Keep Your Pet Safe and Happy
There’s certainly a wide variety of pet-friendly items on the market these days. Along with the self-feeding bowls mentioned above, pet owners can also purchase pet “drinking fountains.” Other pet tech gadgets include electronic play toys that race around the house to give your dog something to chase besides the cat and calming harnesses that use vibration, sound, and acupressure points to soothe your anxious canine.
With all of these gadgets, keeping Fido safe while you’re away may be easier than keeping him happy. He will miss you, but with today’s modern conveniences, you can still visit him each day even if you’re far from home. Consider making your property “smarter,” and you’ll save time, money, and the guilt that comes with leaving your four-legged friend behind.