Wearables for pets and careful surveillance

Andrew and John, who are parents, tell us that their dogs have misbehaved, damaging furniture and other belongings while they were at school and work. Andrew took the initiative to install webcams for his short-haired German dog Tigger and purchase a pet wearable called “Whistle.”

According to its website, Whistle “combines GPS tracking and pet wellbeing in one band.” The device is attached to Tigger’s collar and connects with a smartphone application that allows Andrew to monitor and evaluate Tigger’s activity, play, and rest in real time. According to one expert, Whistle belongs to a growing pet wearable market that is “revolutionising pet health and wellbeing.”

Andrew can keep an “approachable” eye on Tigger while at work. He came up with a way to solve the problem of misbehavior by locking some rooms and creating play areas that reflect Tigger’s daily routine.

GPS tracking is becoming increasingly popular among pet owners to monitor their pets. Shutterstock

Our observations of the Williams family are part of a research project that spans multiple cities and examines domestic practices around mobile media, digital media, and video games. We assumed that we would be focusing on human perceptions and practices when we began our research. Animals kept getting in our way.

Australia is home to one of the most pet-friendly populations in the world. Nearly five million households have at least one pet. Our research revealed that people and their pets share a variety of intimate relationships, including digital media.

We’ve seen (or heard stories of) dogs and cats watching TV or video calling, playing on iPads and keyboards. Anna, a Perth participant, describes how she oftenypes her Blue Heeler Abby with the help of her partner when she is away on business trips.

Abby will press her nose to the screen and “talk” when Anna is not present. She gets excited, wags her tail, and talks. Anna tells us that it’s well-known that some dogs can “see” screens while others cannot. She shows us YouTube videos of skyping dogs.

Wearable devices are becoming increasingly popular as the size of technology decreases. This includes everything from iPods to Fitbits. The Quantified-Self (QS), movement (the use of self-tracking applications and wearables for monitoring biometrics and improving daily functioning), and Gamification are driving global wearable device shipments to 110 million annually by the end of 2016. The global wearable market for pets is worth $2.62 Billion a year. Predicts that the Australian market will grow.

Pet wearables allow for surveillance and tracking via devices like Pod 2, Buddy, and WUF; monitoring heart rate and sleep patterns (Inupathy and PetPace); and may include geofencing capabilities and virtual boundary alerts that notify owners when their pets wander too far away (e.g., DogTelligent).

The Pod is one of the many GPS pet trackers available on the market. AAP Image/ Sebastian Langton

Pet owners can “gamify’ their pet’s exercise by using a leaderboard and reward system that compares their results to those of other pets. Download an app for augmented reality that can see through furniture and obstacles to find their pet. Wearable cameras allow them to record their pet’s movement and perspective.

Andrew had developed a deep understanding of Tigger, his character, and his behavior in the house when humans are at work. Andrew explained to us that Tigger had different associations with certain rooms, couches, and beds (he would, for example, retreat into the main bedroom if he was anxious). Andrew said that by tracking Tigger’s movements, he was able to understand his pet better.

Wearables for pets and monitoring systems also play a role in the ethics of care. These devices are rooted in a history of care that engages paradoxical notions such as constraint and guardianship. In fact, our relationship with domestic animals can be ambiguous; pets are nature and culture, social and instinctual, controlled and nurtured, and at the same companions.

GPS trackers help us understand our pets’ moods and behavior. Shutterstock

We can say that our kinship to domestic animals is deepened by “careful observation,” whether it’s in the home, as we saw at the Williams household, or when we are away.

Paul and Millie, a beagle owned by another participant in the study, often walk together. Paul said he was worried that Millie would wander off and had, therefore, avoided taking her for night walks. He bought a Halo Belt that lit up in the dark for Millie. He could now always find Millie in the dark and reduce the risk of her scaring people like night joggers.

The term “careful supervision” is used to describe our emotional connection with domestic animals and our love of our pets. But surveillance also has to be “careful” in terms of the effects it can have on both humans and animals.

We should consider the relationship between control and concern as we involve our pets more in the gamification of life and the quantification of daily activities, assisted by new technology.

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