AT THE END of August, we adopted a Romanian rescue dog called Sox. He says hi by the way. He'd probably lick your face if he could.
With my tech-head ever present, I began to wonder what gadgets there were available to make Sox's (and our) life a bit easier. So I put out a call and this is what came back.
It's a far from exhaustive list, and of course, there are a lot of things that we might review elsewhere on the site that have a use for dogs and cats too, but these are the ones that particularly caught our eye.
Motorola Traks GPS Tracker
The big bonus (or bone, possibly) of the Motorola Traks device is that it comes with a year of SIM service so you don't need to worry about monthly payments, at least to start with. It's lightweight and provides you with an up to the minute location report of where your pet is for those "Fenton!" moments.
We found the set up a little less than intuitive, but once set up there are lots of options including geofencing your home, as if you can't find doggie in the house, you're probably not looking hard enough.
For outside you've got two choices of waterproof cover - black or "can't miss him" orange. There's specific alerts for if your pet has got through the fence and warnings if their body temperature is abnormally high or low. All in all, bar the setup, it's a very well thought out product.
Tractive Activity Tracker
Of all the tracking devices and activity monitors we looked at, this is the most complete solution. It's not just a tracker in case your pet goes astray, it's an entire platform, with an SDK so the Tractive can be put to use as a fitness tracker and even the basis for games.
Attaching it to the collar is very secure, with different attachments to tailor to the dimensions of your dog's collar. On the downside, it's quite bulky and is clearly aimed at the larger breed, and use of the service is subject to a monthly fee. Pro tip - if you subscribe, do it from a computer, the mobile app only lets you pay for one or two years. There is a monthly option but you have to long on to the desktop site to find it which we thought was a bit off.
What you get though is a variety of apps that can be used with your Tractive, so you can check on location, activity levels in real time, and without any of that messy SIM card business and a community of users to compare notes with, which is great.
Sure Pet Care Microchip Connect Pet Door
One of the things that always put me off putting a pet door in was the fact that, despite all good intentions, you can't fully guarantee that you won't end up attracting other critters. Growing up, our cats had magnets on their collar, but all that did was let any neighbourhood cat with a magnet on their collar in too. In theory, magnet-wearing white rhinos as well, but there tend not to be as many of them in Northamptonshire.
Petsure solves that problem by utilising the one thing that all good pet owners should do anyway. Tagging your pet. Long before there were Oyster cards and Apple Pay, we were putting RFID tags - "microchips" in pets to ensure their safety. Each one is unique and yes, you can scan your pet with your phone. If you're still reading this, and haven't immediately gone to find Tiddles to try it, then go and do it now, I will wait.
Curiosity satisfied? Good.
The Petsure pet door is a different animal, pun very much intended. Linked to your wifi with a hub device, it can be trained with your pet's microchip details, meaning that only the animals you want getting through, can. In addition it provides a record of when your pet last when in or out. This also means you can tell just how long dead the chaffinch you found on the lounge carpet actually is. Win-win.
Set up was easy and as long as you don't have a contortionist pet that tries to get in arse first, the sensitivity is such that it will read the RFID tag in the scruff of its neck with ease. We like this - it's an elegant solution to an old problem.
Photizo Pet Therapy
There's the danger of what is essentially a wand with a red LED in it being dismissed as "hocum" (to quote Sheldon Cooper). However, there's no question that stroking the warm light down Sox's spine really does calm him down.
The wand, which can also be used to provide pain relief for aching muscles is already in use in some vets as a complementary therapy and is approved for use in humans - a version for people will be on sale next year.
What we do know is that a few strokes over an affected area does provide relief after a long walk, and seems to reduce stress. We're not sure of the science but we're quietly, cautiously impressed.
Hoover Vision One Fi Pet Vacuum
We're a bit confused by this one, but let's get the important facts out of the way first. Sox sheds. He sheds, a lot. And this is a very, very good vacuum cleaner - it actually managed to restore a shag-pile rug that we thought we were going to have to chuck out. But vacuum cleaners have almost transcended 'gadget' status and so this has to be a bit more.
The 'more' comes in that this is part of Hoover's connected home range and so, by virtue of, of course it is, it's connected to WiFi. And it has an app. The purpose of this is to tell you when the bag is full, when the filters need cleaning, parts need replacing and so on. Basically, this is a machine with an app to tell you just how much it sucks.
But it suffers from a fatal flaw. The wifi is only connected if the motor is running. Which gives rise to the question, do I really want to be looking at my phone with one hand and moving the vacuum cleaner with the other? And what exactly are you supposed to do with the Shake n Vac when both hands are occupied?
This design flaw might be more forgivable if it had a hands-free kit for your phone, maybe with a charging dock. But it doesn't.
It does connect to the rest of Hoover's smart range, but it's a closed ecosystem right now, and as such it joins a pantheon of devices that are connected to the internet for no other reason than because they can.
That said, let's say it again - stunning cleaning performance. Genuinely.
Andrew James 4-Day Pet Feeder
So you get the general idea - four compartments that rotate so you can feed your dog or cat in appropriate portions. What we found useful was that by keeping some areas empty, we could train Sox that it's a "move it or lose it" situation and in common with many pet owners, we don't like leaving food down. Grazing is not recommended.
What's extra cute though is that (in addition to a constant supply of water), you can record a message to play to your pet via the built in hidden microphone and speaker. So you are out of sight, but not out of mind.
We're not really condoning leaving your dog this long, but a bit of lateral thinking and it's a very versatile piece of kit.
GoDogGo Ball Launcher
Sometimes, reviewing a product is best done with a viral video. So if you've not seen this yet, you're in for a treat.
Need we say more? This is it. It's what it does. It's well made. It's great.
This isn't Sox by the way - Sox hasn't got the hang of "fetch" yet. He's got as far as run-after-ball-and-wonder-why-it-isn't-moving. We're working on it. Of course, you're probably thinking "why not just throw the ruddy ball". Simple. Because there are chairs and cans of beer in the world, and camera phones to record the fun with.
Relax My Dog app
When Sox first arrived, he was terrified of the television. He's over it now, but we did find that he was good with music, so it's good to see that music therapy for dogs is alive and well. Relax My Dog gives you a range of options to chill your dog out. Similar things have been tried before (Dog TV anyone?) and they do work. We've not had long with this, but we love it.
PitPat Activity Tracker
We first met PitPat a while ago, and their simplified solution appealed to us, mainly because although the data being recorded isn't live (you upload it via Bluetooth) it makes the weight on the dogs' collar significantly lighter. It's a great way of seeing if Doggo (or Kitteh) is getting enough exercise and meeting like-minded "dog parents". Notable for refusing Dragons Den money, PitPat has gone on to sell in more retailers than any other and it really works. A great bit of kit. We're basing this on a prototype from a while ago so it may well be even better by now.
Finally, not a gadget, but our 10th mention has to go to Forthglade who kindly offered Sox a months' supply of natural food, kibble and treats to help him settle into his forever home. He's still here so it must have worked.
And if you're thinking of getting a dog, please consider rescuing one. Sox came from Love Underdogs who work tirelessly to rehome dogs who have had sucky starts from the UK and Romania and even if you can't give one a home, they always need your donations.. µ
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