First a little about me. My name is Nick Ferris and I love animals and technology. I’ve always been a first adopter – from the very first computers and dial up modems, to buying a Sony Aibo Robot dog which would dance and play fetch for my amusement. Throughout my life I’ve always helped animals, rescue centers, or done whatever I can. My girlfriend and I were once in Barbados and rescued a dog there whilst on vacation. My brother and his wife drove thousands of miles to rescue three dogs in Greece. And my current dog, Ginger, is herself a rescue who was badly mistreated in the first few months of her life (left emaciated and chained in a warehouse) but who is the biggest lover in the world and holds not a single grudge.
In the US alone 43 million households have dogs, 34 million have cats, 2 million have horses. With an average of 1.6 dogs per household, that’s equates to over $15,000 spent in a dog’s lifetime, $25,000 for a horse. Many people spend way and above that for their beloved pets, whether it’s fashionable coats for winter, manicures, massages, luxury boarding or the finest meals a dog (or human) could imagine. I even knew someone who flew her pet pig by private jet. So why do we go to these crazy extremes for them?
Well people who have one or more pets in their homes lead happier lives, are considerably healthier, live longer and (statistically) weigh less than those who don’t. Pet owners heal better after surgery and have reduced factors for cardiovascular disease. But the bond goes beyond the convenience – there is a spiritual, mutually beneficial relationship that continues to grow as we develop as humans and our understating of pets also develops.
We’ve all seen YouTube videos of pets rescuing humans from fire, trapped down a well or just being there as therapy animals for people in need. Bubbles and Bella (Google it and get a tissue) is another great example of the two most unlikely animals (a 40lb dog and one-ton elephant) becoming BFFs. But it shows you that unlike humans, these animals do not judge, do not stereotype. They are the truest and earliest forms of humans before we become programmed by society and influenced to be what we were never meant to be.
Which is why we probably hold our beloved pets in such high esteem. They are a connection to our purest form, a reminder of what we may strive to be. And just for that reason alone, we’ll spend anything we have to to keep them happy, healthy and by our side.
Enter the size of the pet industry. In just the US last year over $60 billion dollars was spent on our pets. That sounds a lot right? $60 billion a year would make college free for about half of all full-time college students, or it would buy roughly a $500 annual tax cut for every household in the country. Now you can see why the introduction of pet technology (a relatively new yet accelerating class of expenditure) is so appealing to the inventors and manufacturers, and for the owners it opens up whole new universe.
Inevitably as human technology develops there was bound to be overlap into the pet market. FitBits, Apple Watches, calorie counters and other technology have made us far more aware of our exercise, our food intake, how many steps, how many stairs, our heart rate, how much we slept and a million other variables. We are the first generation to ever have access to this information in a real time, easy to access basis. Will it help us live longer, happier lives? We won’t know for a while, but billion dollar companies have been formed around this. You can even get gene mapping to see what your likelihood of developing certain diseases is and potentially change any bad sequences for your offspring. Some call it Brave New World or 1984 but there is no doubting the future is not rapidly approaching but in many cases it has happened.
Many of you will know of Stephen Fry, a renowned actor, author and self prescribed tech head. He recently said “[Technology is] the greatest change to our ways of living since we moved from hunting and gathering to settling down in farms, villages and seaports and started to trade and form civilizations. Whether it will alter the behavior, cognition and identity of the individual in the same way it is certain to alter the behavior, cognition and identity of the group, well that is a hard question to answer. But believe me when I say that it is happening. To be frank it has happened.”
Not only will humans never be the same again, neither will our pets. Over the next decade we are going to see a transformation in the lives and care of pets. So let’s dive into some of the key areas where this will impact your beloved dog, cat or rabbit.
Playing with your pet would usually mean throwing a ball (and if you were lucky) getting it back. Maybe waving a feather at your cat. Those days will soon be over. Imagine the tennis ball on steroids, which has also spent 10 months in the gym, taken a million health supplements and eats as much as The Rock does every day. Some tennis ball huh? Well that future is here. You can now purchase a ball with built in camera, wifi, microphone and speakers that will play with your pet for you, take pictures of your pet playing and keep them entertained for hours while you are hard at working paying off the credit card bills you’ve accumulated for your pet’s technology.
Walking sounds so simple. Now technology has complicated it. As we mentioned earlier, with the rise of fitness tracking gadgets, dogs are now the latest craze. You can get smart collars that tell you how far your dog has walked, whether their heart rate has risen enough, if it has achieved its daily exercise goals. Something as simple as a walk in the park has become a spreadsheet of data and numbers.
Losing Your Pet
To be honest this is one area technology could not have come sooner. If you’ve ever experienced the loss of a pet you’ll know the anguish, stress and heartbreak that can occur from something as simple as a gate being left open, you taking your eye off your pet for two seconds. Pet trackers are now becoming fashionable, easy to wear and connect to your smart phone for real time tracking of your dog. As long as they have their collar on, technology can now help you see exactly where they are. This tech is still evolving and although now it is a luxury item, over the next few years the first thing every new pet owner will purchase will be a collar with integrated tracking. Gone are the days of Lost Dog posters on the telegraph pole.
Food Glorious Food
Robo feeders are taking over the pet care industry too. These will feed your pet at certain times and can keep track of whether they are eating too much, too little etc. There are also treat machines – some with built in cameras – which can throw treats to your pet while you are away.
I won’t get into a healthcare debate here, but we know it could always be better. Veterinary care is also in a transformation and certainly is not the cheapest. But technology could really help your pet live a healthier life and also provide vital data to your veterinarian. Just imagine, your dog is not eating its food and you take it to the vet as you think it is unwell. The smart technology available in some collars can provide invaluable data to that vet – what their heart rate is (many are overly stressed at the vets so hard to get an accurate reading), what their body temperature history has been. And as the software for these trackers gets more advanced, soon you may get an alert on your phone saying your pet has a fever or to visit your local veterinarian because of a discrepancy in the data. That future is fast approaching and should help our pets live a longer happier life.
Robot Pet Sitters
Yes this is already a thing. I’m just not sure it’s a good thing. There are fully fledged robots that can entertain and look after your pet while you are away. Just imagine a baby sitter but with batteries that needs charging over night.
Understanding Your Pet
I’m sure many of you have seen Pixar’s movie Up where the dogs have translating collars. The late Douglas Adams came up with the Babel Fish in the 1980s, a fish you put in your ear and would translate any language spoken to you. Well that future is now a reality with Google Translate. And dog translations may be the next big discovery. John W. Pilley Jr, who is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has been working with a dog called Chaser which has been nicknamed by the media as the 'smartest dog in the world'. In a nutshell Chaser has an understanding of over 1000 words. Where some dogs get excited if you say ‘want to go outside?’, Chaser will wait to see if that also involves going in the car, for a walk or other less exciting options. This incredible research, combined with strides in technology gets us ever closer to truly understanding our pets. The closet thing out there now is a product aptly named ‘Woof’ which analyzes your dogs behavior in conjunction with it’s barking to tell you if it is happy, sad or needs to go to the bathroom! Not quite full on translation and don’t expect to be able to discuss Aristotle with your Labrador anytime soon, but perhaps one day.
Technology is not always for the better. Many of you have noticed how many of us walk down the street, smart phone in hand, not noticing or interacting with the environment around us. For all the talk of social, technology enables and encourages anti social behavior as we can hide behind our screens. The same can be said for pets. Consider the following – your pet has an automated door to the garden that only it and its smart collar can operate. So that’s walks taken care of and no need for a dog walker while you are at work. You have a treat machine that throws treats every so often. Another check. Lunch is served automatically. Your smart toys play with your animal. On the surface everything is a check. Your dog has been stimulated, exercised and fed. All for under a few thousand dollars! But wait a second, doesn’t that just null and void the entire reason we have one?
Interaction Time With Your Pet
This is where we have to be careful. Technology could have the same effect on our pets as it has on us. The whole point of having a pet is to have the companionship, the unrequited love, that wagging tail when you come through the door knowing no matter what happened in your day, no matter how bad life is, you have that love waiting for you. We have to balance technology otherwise our pets will become another piece of equipment that we have to service and upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology where it helps our relationships and our pets’ health, we just have to make sure technology doesn’t become a detriment to those goals. Whatever happens over the next few years, our lives with our pets WILL change. We just have to make sure they change for the better.
There is no doubt technology will transform the life of our pets and we’re at the very early stages of that revolution. Pets will live longer. Fewer pets will be lost and hopefully no pets will ever be abused if collars and other smart technologies are able to pick that up and alert the authorities. But as with any technology make sure it helps improve your life and your pets life together. When I had my robot dog, it was great to show off at parties and entertain friends but it could never substitute the real love of a dog.
About Nick Ferris
Nick Ferris runs a website called TopPetTech. The website follows the latest trends and innovations in pet technology. In this every changing world where technology is leading innovation pet owners are being bombarded daily with new high tech collars, GPS trackers, video cameras, bark sensors, you name it. There is just so much out there but is any of it any good? Nick Ferris reports on the products, provide user feedback with your help and together build a destination so whether you are looking for a simple GPS collar, or want the latest hi tech fashion for your pooch, Top Tech Pet is the place to be. For more information and to read some of the pet tech articles visit toppettech.com
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