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Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo don’t really show up at CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas, last week. But CleverPet has stepped into the breach with a video game console — for dogs.

Yep. The CleverPet Hub is designed to get dogs more active. Instead of just getting their treats or meals served to them, the dogs have to do some work. They do so by pawing the lights on the Hub, sort of like the old Simon board game. It’s a little like whack-a-mole for canines.

“The dog has to hit the right button at the right time to get a bit of their food for the day,” said Daniel Knudsen, cofounder and chief science officer of San Diego-based CleverPet, in an interview with VentureBeat. “There are some dogs that take a little longer than others to learn.”

The device is Wi-Fi connected, and you could theoretically link one to another. CleverPet gradually introduces dogs to what they have to do. It’s like a Pavlovian response.

“The basic science for interacting with animals has been around for 100 years,” Knudsen said. “It started with Pavlov and continued with B.F. Skinner. We did this by putting it in front of a lot of dogs. Frankly, we haven’t reached the end of what they can do yet. There’s a lot more that we can do.”

CleverPet Hub keeps dogs engaged when you leave the house, and it reduces their anxiety. You can use it to teach dogs commands. If you say “left” with your recorded voice, the dog can engage the left touch pad.

The console doesn’t have a screen because dogs don’t need it, Knudsen said.

“Dogs can engage visually, but it’s not one of their primary modalities,” he said. “It’s not meaningful to them to watch a screen. It’s unnecessarily complicated to add it. I would rather have smell, but smell is really difficult to deal with.”

The company is taking preorders for $269. It plans to ship its first units in April. CleverPet has five people, and it has raised a seed round. It’s in the midst of raising more founders. The price goes up another $30 later on.

Selling the console will present a challenge. “The hard part for now is convincing people that a game console for dogs is not a ridiculous concept,” Knudsen said.

 

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