Tracking your own steps with a fitness tracker isn't enough these days, you can monitor kids and cats and dogs too. According to a recent report, the pet wearables market will be worth $2.5 billion by 2024. That means a whole lot of pets are going to be wandering around with a piece of connected tech.
I've been putting the $69.99 FitBark and the £40 PitPat through their paces for a few weeks now to see whether they can be as useful as the ones for us humans. Each one tracks a dog's activity but in their own unique way. The end result should be a record of how much exercise your hound is getting compared to what he or she needs.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers (for humans)
The delightful pooch you'll see in the pictures is my female German Shepherd and her name is Khaleesi. Like her namesake, she is never one to take it easy. Here's what life was like when I strapped on two dog-friendly trackers.
Meet the trackers
I first gave the PitPat a go, which was super easy to set up and attach. Download the app, input the breed, sex, weight, name and a photo and you're good to go. The unit itself is small, light and comes with velcro that attaches it to most collars easily. A tap of the button and the PitPat will connect via Bluetooth to your phone to transfer data, which works better than some big name GPS watches we've tested recently - we won't name names.
Adding to all that ease is a battery that goes for months and waterproofing that means you never really need to remove it. After several walks this proved to be a really important factor in making life easier.
By comparison the FitBark is a little more bulky, although still small. This uses a stretchy band to connect the unit, similar to that used on bicycle computer mounts. It's also waterproof and connects via Bluetooth. The difference is this unit stays connected so you don't need to tap the button to transfer data. This sounds like a good thing but in reality it means you need to micro USB charge it after about 10 days. Not too often then but a hassle added to the list is something you don't need when going for a walk.
Essentially a dog walk, let's admit it, can feel like a chore. Adding to that with the effort of remembering to charge a device isn't something anybody needs.
Crunching the dog data
PitPat companion app
The PitPat has a smart measurement system that gives you a minute figure for fitness. It's nice and simple. This tells you what your particular dog requires daily and all you need to do is go out and make up the time. It does also break that time down into walking, running, playing and resting minutes plus calories too.
The FitBark uses a measure of play time, active time and rest time with an overall points score. You even get a sleep score as well as distance traveled and calories burned in the day. All of that is nice but the reality isn't quite so impressive. For example, on a day I went on a run with Khalessi the FitBark registered an hour of play and only three minutes of activity. Surely that should be the other way around?
It's not to say the measurement was inaccurate as timings were about right, just perhaps it could be clearer what each type of exercise is. That way you can glance and think, I can get away with just a walk minus throwing the ball today.
FitBark companion app
You can also pick the level of goal you want for your dog so if you're aiming to help it lose weight the more active option could be selected. Or if the guilt of not hitting that goal gets too much you can always lower it a little. Be warned you'll still be guilted into walkies as the daily point level is shown compared to the average of similar dogs.
The FitBark app offers a daily journal you can fill out. We didn't do this as, to be honest, there isn't much to say - certainly not worthy enough to be written down. "Ball thrown, stick returned, fail". It feels a bit like an app extra for the sake of it. Clearly it's trying to build a community, and also offers data on other dogs similar to yours - you can even follow other dogs and start chats within the app. This is a good guilt drive to make you walk more but wasn't going to get me socialising - I do enough of that IRL with other dog owners when out walking. That said perhaps older people - who you struggle to move on from when out on a walk - might love this chance to virtually continue to talk someone's ear off.
Both offer clear layouts with at a glance data for the day as well as previous activity that can be broken down to show what was done and when. In reality I didn't find myself going back over data as it doesn't really offer much more than a record of what was done. Perhaps if you have a specific goal, like making a dog lose some weight, those figures could be made more useful.
The daily targets are great but they're pretty ambitious even on the more basic level - expecting me to go out for over an hour every day with the dog is a bit much. An hour of walking and playing is enough to tire her out for the day after so a walk around the block, where she uses her nose to tire her brain out, is enough. The apps don't take these things into account and simply shows a set goal which stays the same regardless of activity. Perhaps this is an area where the app can update and get smarter in the future.
Pet trackers: The good and the bad
Tracking your pet's activity is fun, for a while. In the case of the PitPat you can leave it on and forget about charging - but you need to remember to tap the button to sync. Then with the FitBark you don't have to think about syncing but need to charge it every ten days or so. So both are not without hassle.
The most obvious impact these have had is to make walks longer. It's one thing to prep your pooch, pop out and pound pavement for a bit. It's another thing to stay out for long enough to make sure there's enough exercise being done for the size of your dog.
Effort aside, they provide a good way to track your dog's activity and, perhaps more importantly, guilt you into going out more often. Your pet needs plenty of exercise and, let's be honest, it can't hurt you to get out for a nice walk either. So if these help you do that - even if it's with guilt, then they're probably worth spending on.