Like many people, part of my job entails sitting in front of my computer most of the day. That means my dog, Jade, is also not exercising most of the day. That’s not good for either of us. So when the people behind the Whistle Activity Monitor contacted me and asked if I wanted to try out their fitness tracking device for dogs, Jade and I jumped at the chance.
Well, maybe we didn’t jump, but we did get off the couch and stretch a bit.
Who tracks a dog’s activity levels?
You knew this was coming, right? Wherever you look, people are wearing fitness trackers. I wear the Nike FuelBand myself, which has totally given up on me. Still, perhaps it’s not so strange that there are now fitness trackers for dogs. But can a pricey ($130) canine fitness tracker increase the likelihood that a sedentary writer and her furry companion would both get off their duffs?
If guilt is the primary motivator here, then the answer is yes. I wound up taking Jade for extra walks and even braved the near-freezing weather so she could run around at the off-leash dog park with her friends, just so she could make her fitness goal for the day. We moved more, and we spent more time together. That in itself is a Good Thing, as Martha Stewart would say, because I had gotten way too good at ignoring those big brown eyes that pleaded, “Please take me to the park!” in order to make work deadlines.
Helicopter-parenting your dog
The Whistle sits unobtrusively on your dog’s collar and tracks your dog’s activity. It collects data on how much walking, running, playing, and resting your dog does, and then it transmits it via Bluetooth to your smartphone.
If you are the kind of person who likes to know what your dog is doing 24/7, who would like to track everything that goes into her mouth, and also want to share all that info with other dog lovers, then there’s a social component to the Whistle that you might enjoy.
The Whistle app lets you track and share your dog’s food and medicine intake, make comments, and add photos of all the fun you two are having together. You can then share this information either privately between owners or on Facebook or Twitter. If you like infographics, you can look at the Trends screen and pore over the analyses Whistle compiles for you on your dog’s daily and weekly activity.
Working long hours away from home and afraid you’ll miss something? This is where your smartphone comes in. The Whistle pairs with your phone via Bluetooth and downloads activity data whenever you’re in range. It will show when your dog had bursts of activity, so you can see whether the expensive dog-walking service you hired to exercise Rover while you were at work actually showed up and did its job.
I do wish there was GPS tracking on this app so I could see where my dog was in addition to the intensity of the exercise. If you’re relying on someone else to exercise your dog, it seems way too easy to cheat, since the Whistle is basically a pedometer and would respond to moving the unit but not the dog. GPS may or may not be in the works, says Whistle co-founder Steven Eidelman.
“GPS capability is definitely something we’re evaluating for the future. Current technology that is broadly available doesn’t allow for a better service given size of device, expensive monthly fee, and poor battery life. … In the meantime, we’ll be incorporating location information from owners’ phones into the app, so while that won’t help with loss prevention, it will help paint a picture of where the dog has gone with its owners.”
Getting up and running
The Whistle isn’t any harder to set up than a fitness tracker meant for humans. There’s not a lot of documentation in the box, but a single-page jump-start guide with nice pictures (think IKEA) got us off to the races pretty quickly.
The device itself is a silver disk that attaches to your dog’s collar via an easy-to-assemble rubber and plastic insert. Jade is naturally skeptical about everything, but she didn’t even notice the Whistle on her collar.
Before you can go for a romp in the park, however, there are a few things that need to happen. Some of them require a good amount of patience. First, you will need to charge the Whistle. The device attaches magnetically to a charging station that plugs into any USB port. I plugged mine into my laptop so I could keep working while I waited to play with Jade. A full charge, which was still going impressively strong seven days later, took about an hour.
Downloading the app from either the iTunes Store or the Google Play store was easy, and the app will remind you to turn on your Bluetooth in order to pair your phone with the device. This is the only part of installation that I didn’t like, and the Whistle app seemed to draw down my phone’s battery. For the week I used the Whistle, I had to recharge my iPhone a lot more.
Once I had the hardware set up, I added a photo of Jade, put in a bit of information about her (weight, breed, and so on) and set the activity goal using the handy slider. I like to underpromise and overdeliver, so I set it for a modest 30 minutes a day.
(And no, the irony that Jade’s photo shows her curled up and napping is not lost on me.)
The Whistle seems to be durable enough for most levels of activity and is waterproof. On the website and on the box, there are photos of a damp dog staring wistfully out to sea while wearing his Whistle, contemplating another swim or run on the beach.
Jade is a border terrier and a sworn landlubber, so we won’t be fighting the undertow anytime soon, but the unit did experience a downpour or two. A simple wipe off with a towel kept it ticking and looking pretty.
This is a good device if you are really, really involved with your dog and feel the need to record everything she does and consumes (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Jade and I are close, no doubt, but my feeling is that $130 buys a lot of dog food. For now, I think we’ll just assume that if we make it outside for a daily long walk, it’s good enough for the both of us.
Also watch for the FitBark, which should ship this year.