You come home from work and your dog doesn’t come to greet you. You find him sluggishly walking through the hall, his nose warm and dry. You check his food bowl; he’s not eating. The next thing you do is consult the data from his fitness band, right?
Yeah, probably not. But that’s the future Whistle envisions for its doggie quantified-self device. The company launched its Whistle fitness band today, and while it might seem over the top for the everyday dog owner, it could have a big impact at your next vet visit.
“One of the reasons why vet bills are so high … is because there are no actuarial models. There’s no data,” explained chief executive Ben Jacobs in an interview with VentureBeat. “We buy all these things now to take care of [our dogs] and make them live longer lives … and yet we don’t have any information on it.”
Whistle keeps track of a dog’s activity and can monitor its sleep. It’s a small, silver disk that is placed on the dog’s collar. Jacobs says the materials used are “uber non-toxic” in case a dog chews one up, though the design itself has been tested to make it comfortable for dogs. Whistle is also waterproof and has been tested in a variety of environments. In order to continue improving on the design, the company also took on a $6 million first round of funding today, led by DCM Ventures.
It comes with an app (currently available only on iOS devices, but with plans to release on Android soon) that visualizes the data for you. To start, you enter in your dog’s breed, age, weight, and gender. Then it’s off and running, just like your dog. Data collected can be automatically compiled into a PDF, which you can then email or fax (yes, fax) to your vet in the case of an issue.
The company works with institutions such as the Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which has expressed the field’s need for this kind of data, according to Jacobs. And, it’s not just for individual dogs. These fit-bands — with the permission of the owner — can share their doggie data to a database accessible by vets everywhere. The more dogs use the band, the more comprehensive that information gets, showing vets new trends and information about breed health ready to be analyzed.
The device can distinguish between different types of activity, such as playing fetch or going on a walk. More importantly, however, it can sense when the dog is doing activities on its own versus activities with you. This is an important distinction for vets. Jacobs explained that vets often are looking for the activity that goes on when you’re not around to tell whether a dog is behaving normally or not.
But, interestingly, Whistle is not targeting vets and doesn’t currently plan on using them as a distribution channel. Instead, the company is looking to sell in regular retail pet stores such as PetSmart or Petco, targeting dog owners directly. When asked if the company thinks regular people will be willing to spend the extra $99 on their dog, Jacobs seemed confident.
“No matter what’s going in your life, in your financial life, you can’t bear to not give the dog what they need,” said Jacobs. “This is a very emotional market, we can talk about kids in the same way.”
He says Whistle is going after “pet-parents,” and we’ve got to imagine you’ve met one of them before. If you haven’t, please see Owen Thomas over at ReadWrite and ask him to sing you the song about his fabulous pup Ramona the Love Terrier. Out of the 80 million dogs in the U.S., 35 million belong to these pet parents, who spend up to $40,000 over the course of the dog’s life, according to Jacobs.
But while Silicon Valley may have the stomach for quantified-pooches, the rest of the world might not be so inclined. That’s where the vets could step in. If a dog owner who won’t even shell out a hundred bucks for their own personal device, has it recommended to them by a puppy medical professional, it might push them over the edge.
Duke and Ben photo via Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat