TOP #16: How Pet Technology Helps Us Learn About Dogs

All kinds of new technological advancements have been making their way into the pet industry, with a rapid expansion particularly over the last decade. One in particular, pet monitoring cameras, have become far more popular than the rest, and that's because they offer a lot more than simply spying on our dogs and cats pretending to be cute.

In this Theory of Pets podcast episode, I've had the pleasure to have Rachel Youens as my guest to explain more about pet cameras for dogs and cats, and how they help us learn more about and understand our pets better. Rachel is a Senior Marketing Manager at Petcube and have been involved with the technology for quite some time.

We don't just talk about Petcube camera itself. Rachel provides some great tips for dog owners who are shopping for a pet monitoring camera, how to pick one and which types of dog cameras and their features are right for you, your home and your companions.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

How Pet Technology Helps Us Learn About Dogs
(raw podcast transcript)

Pet Technology for Understanding Dogs

* To read just the interview transcript, please scroll down below.

This week I wanted to talk with you guys about a piece of technology in the pet industry that is really kind of piquing my interest, and it's cameras for pets.  I work from home thankfully, I don't have to leave my dogs for long periods of time, but when I am gone I wonder what they're up to, and I found myself wondering this more, we have a Boxer who is seven years old, she has some dog separation anxiety, it's pretty mild but I always wonder about what she does when we leave.

Recently I've noticed that she's sitting… and we have a big picture window in the front of our house, and whenever I pull in the driveway she is there sitting in the window, and I always wonder does she sit there all day and wait for me while I'm gone or does she just recognize the sound of my car wheel, we live in a very rural area on a back road, so does she just recognize the sound of my car and when she hears it kind of starting to turn down our road, we're the first house on the road, so does she recognize that and jump into the window?  I don't know.

So I've been thinking about pet cameras and I wanted to take a little bit today and talk you to guys about pet cameras and technology in the pet industry.  And to help me kind of learn a little bit more about pet cameras and what to look for when you're shopping for one and kind of the trends in the pet industry and where this might be going, I spoke today with the Senior Marketing Manager at Petcube.  Petcube has released a pet camera, and Rachel and I discussed latest technology in the pet industry very briefly, but certainly pet cameras.  And if you're thinking about buying one or you don't really know much about them, she gave a lot of really great information and some tips and tricks for pet owners like myself that aren't exactly technologically savvy.

I don't really give in to a lot of technology, I try, certainly my children are better at technology than I am, which is kind of silly because I work in a business where I'm always testing products and testing technology but it's just not easy for me to pick it up and learn it the way that it is for some people.  So if you're like me, you're not specifically technologically savvy and you're kind of…you want to know what's going on with your animals, your dog or your cat throughout the day but you're not sure that a pet camera is right for you, listen to Rachel, she's got some great pointers, and certainly I learned a lot by talking to her.  So I'm excited to share her information with you guys as well.

Interview with Rachel Youens

Rachel:  There's Internet of everything, there's for your home, for your yard, for your car, and I think the Internet of things is just really finally hitting pets.  And there's a lot of people that I think laugh at that a little bit, like “Internet of pets! How silly!”  But when you really break it down and you look at it our pets can't speak for themselves, they don't have a voice, and many times because they don't have a voice health problems will take a lot longer to discover, behavior problems take a lot longer to work out, suddenly we realize, “Wow my pet just gained three pounds, Oh no!”  Or “My pet hasn't been going to the bathroom properly for several days, I didn't know until now,” and it's too late.

So I definitely think we get like snickers at times of like, “Oh!” you know a pet cam, but I cannot tell you how many people have come to us telling that it helped them solve problems, it helped them with behavior.  So trends that I see you know connecting pets happening in a couple different areas, probably the one that most people know about  is trackers, GPS caller trackers…those are just getting even smarter and cooler.  I believe part …I think it was Whistle just released part of theirs that integrated with Google Maps so you can almost see like a map view of where your pet… it's really really cool.  They're getting to do a lot of different stuff, they're starting to incorporate things like… almost like Fitbit and things like that where you measure your pet's steps.

So yeah, I think with pet technology the next area that it's really getting is being a little less like “Here are the steps,” or “Here's where your dog is,” or “Here's the amount of activity there was,” and starting to help you synthesize that into a little bit more of what I do about it.  I know that's what Petcube, we're actively working on is how can we make the amount that your pet moves, the amount that your pet barks, how can we turn that into something that you can do something about?  So yeah, that's where I would really say you know the Internet things is just really finally reaching pets, and it's maturing, it's getting to where it's not just bluetooth your dog… something actionable and really useful for people out of this.

Samantha:  Yeah… no, I absolutely agree. I think we're seeing more of that trend kind of heading towards the health side of it, and I mean you said it perfectly, your dogs can't tell you, or your cats can't tell you when they're not feeling well or when something's not so super important for pet parents.  And I think now too we're seeing a lot more folks working outside the home so it's kind of going hand in hand that we're not around as often and our pets we need to know what's going on with them.

Rachel:  Well and again with people I think kind of snickering at hidden stuff sometimes.  You know I read a great article the other day from a fellow company of ours in the pet-tech space called “Clever Pet,” it's a toy for dogs to play with that's electronic, and they were talking about how in the evolution of domestic pets it's really only a very small amount of time that these animals have been primarily living in houses with people working all day and how what we interpret as you know, “Oh he's so lazy, he sleeps all day,” and stuff, is frequently your dog being very bored, depressed not acting out on their natural behaviors.

Samantha:  Sure.

Rachel:  So when you see those things it's really not to be laughed at, it's kind of your pet silently crying out.  So yeah, people can laugh but I think pet owners really very seriously understand the problem that we're addressing.

Samantha:  Definitely.  And I mean that's a perfect segue to kind talk about Petcube and what it offers, and there's other cameras on the market too.  And maybe if you could tell us a little bit about what would set Petcube apart from some of those other things that we're seeing.

Rachel:  Totally. So Petcube is an interactive pet cam, lets you watch, talk to and play with your pet from your smartphone.  So…

Samantha:   I knew they'd make an appearance eventually.

Rachel:   Kind of translate what that means is when I said, “Walk your pet…”  Hello puppies!  It's got an 1080P camera, it has night vision so that you can actually see your pet at dark, in dark also.  When I said, “Talk to your pet,”  it's got two-way audios so you can talk to your pet and they can bark or purr back to you.  And then I said “Play with your pet,” which how do you play with your pet through a camera?  They have a laser pointer, you move your finger around the app screen and it moves the laser pointer around the room.  And just to bust a myth that dogs don't play with laser pointers, it's not true, lots of dogs…it's really breed dependent, a pug or a terrier might really love it, there are some Huskies that love it, pit bulls that love it, a lot of herding dogs don't even notice the laser pointer, they just don't care at all …

Samantha:  Oh that's interesting.

Rachel:  But yeah, so it lets you watch, talk to and play with your pet.  Some of the neat stuff we have are basically bark alert that lets you know when your dog is barking;  motion alert so you know when your pet's moving around.  Yeah, but really I think the interesting part is the laser pointer that we have, and we have a new product coming out in the spring called “Petcube Bites” that swaps out the laser pointer for the ability to toss treats to your pet and accompany it with a special command and things like that.  So that's sort of the basis of what Petcube does, there are other… first of all I say security cameras on the market, naturally when we backed into the business that we do is we found out that the way a lot of people are using their home security cameras it's two ways, it's to watch babies and it's about their pet.

So when the majority use case was pets, why not make a camera that's specially made for pets rather than made for burglars, which is hopefully actually you're educating…hopefully you're not getting burgled all the time.  Anyway yes, so there are a few other pet cams that are out there on the market, just a handful really it's like I said, it's an emerging space.  Where I think we differentiate from a lot of those, and this is a really fun part about Petcube, anyone can play with pets, you can download the app right now, anybody, and start playing with pets.  So what you can do with Petcube is actually make your pet live and let other people play with your pet…

Samantha:  Oh cool!

Rachel:   Sounds like a crazy thing, and by all means not all of our users do it, but like I mentioned recently I was in a consumer electronics show, it was awesome for me to let other people play with my pets.  I was busy all day long, I didn't have time to even play with them.  And with our recording service actually at the end of the day we get a little highlight reel of my pets and see who they played with.  Like I said, not all our users open their camera public, but what's really cool is you can share just easily with your friends and family and you can schedule time with them.  So if I want to let you play with my cat from nine to five Monday through Friday I can do that.  It's really fun.

Samantha:  Oh that's cool.

Rachel:  Yeah.  So I think this… the community, the network of pet owners, and we've been investing a lot of time in getting Petcubes out in shelters, it helps pets get adopted, helps shelter pets get play.  So I'd really say the kind of community that we're fostering is one of our big competitive advantages, the other thing is the cloud recording service that lets you save those clips in the cloud.  I mean, let's be honest, like most of our pets are pretty bored…they do sleep a lot of times, and so with our cloud recording services, based on sound and motion, it lets you…you know for my cats it lets me get this five times a day that they do move or the five times a day they fight with each other or…yeah so I would say the cloud recording service is a really big boom that we have to really capture those times that you pet is at their best.

Samantha:  Yeah, I mean certainly I think that allowing other people to play with your pet too…and I can see how some people may be wouldn't want to do that, but not everybody is fortunate enough to be able to use cell phone or a tablet or something during work, so if you're gone from nine to five or nine to six and you still want your pet to have some interaction you know that's great, family or friends or somebody could help you out kind of and exercise your pets, so that's really neat.  I actually have… Yeah I have a Petcube coming, they sent it last week when I set up the interview with you so I'll be reviewing it for our site and to show our readers too.  So yeah, I'm excited to check it out.  Well like I just told you, we have three dogs and four cats so somebody will always be around to use it.

Rachel:  Have you ever tried laser with them?

Samantha:    Our cats love the laser, all four of them are …we have a little beagle mix who doesn't really seem to care about a laser pointer, and our Boxer, she's older and doesn't really care about anything, but our Lab does like a laser.  The cats, all of our cats, older and younger go crazy for a laser pointer.

Rachel:  Good.  It's really fun in the dark, it looks like a game of lights…

Samantha:  Oh yeah, cool.

Rachel:  …it's really fun.

Samantha:  Yeah and just… I mean you know being able to keep tabs on them.  I work from home so I'm used to seeing them all the time and knowing what they're doing so when we leave the house, one of our dogs has separation anxiety and I think I'm too a little bit too you know when we leave the house, I'm so used to being with them, so it's nice to be able to check in and see what's going on throughout the day and just say hi to them or…

Rachel:  Well we've had cases of people where a really great one we had the other day was somebody who they put the cat's bowl up above the dog's bowl on the floor, the cat's bowl up on the shelf and the dog knocked over the cat's bowl and was starting to eat the food with the glass in it and the owner heard it from the sound alarm and actually was able to distract the pet with her voice and the laser pointer while she drove home to go clean up the mess. So actually we had another case with a broken mirror.  Yeah, we've had several case studies of actually people being able to help their pets with that, so.

Samantha:  Yeah, and  actually that was my next question and kind of the thing I wanted to chat with you about was the benefit of these types of technological devices for animals.  And that's one thing I never even thought of, but certainly pets with separation anxiety if it's not super severe you can touch bases and they can hear your voice throughout the day is a help, and just keeping them active I think.  Like you said, people are working outside the home, dogs tend to be lazy, not necessarily because they're a lazy dog but because they're bored, they're depressed so keeping them active and having them move around a little bit throughout the day is a huge benefit.

Rachel:  Well and we've seen a lot of people …you know again when people think this is a silly thing, the use case for all elderly pets who have issues that they use case for, we have tons of fosters who use it for their baby kittens, you know you don't want to be there with a mom when she's just given birth and you want to give her her space to nurse and everything.  So it's really easy for them to just place the Petcube in there, keep an eye on them.  Keep an eye on them, the breeders and stuff use it while animals are giving birth.

So especially for sick animals, elderly animals, it just makes a lot of sense, and we've had people who their pets were at the end of their life and to be able to just check on your pet and have that little bit of extra time with your animal even if it's digital.  I mean our product is as much for animals as it is for people, the peace of mind you get to have as a person that you're making that connection is huge.  You know we have tons of case studies but I think what we almost get the least amount of is how great it is for people and how happy it makes them just to be able to have that connection the other day.  There's that hugely popular game, have you ever heard of Meeka …?  [00:14:13.10]

Samantha:  Yeah.

Rachel:  It's like, so it's just …I mean clearly people love that engaging with animals, cultivating; and for people who are allergic, can't have pets, it's like a little cat cafe that you can carry in your pocket all the time.  It's as therapeutic for people as it is for animals, it really is.

Samantha:  Absolutely, I agree with it, and so I mean I think sometimes leaving the house, especially not just running to the grocery store, but when we're gone for a long day our dogs are so used to having somebody home all the time so I do worry about them when we're gone for long days and they're all by themselves, are they just sitting there sad and depressed, are they playing with each other, are they moving around?  So it's cool to be able to check in and give yourself that peace of mind too that your dogs find when you're gone.

Rachel:  You see funny little behaviors, like I can't tell you just all the funny dogs hiding stuff or…getting in little fights, or like people have learned that okay if me and my husband leave at the same time then the dog goes crazy with separation anxiety, but if my husband leaves and then I leave 15 minutes later the dog's a lot calmer.  Like weird little things people have learned, it's almost like we've had the concept of a game camera for a long time where people watch wild animals…and they watch deer.  These are really just little animals that live in our house so you know the game cam like it's fun to watch their little hidden…

Samantha:  Yeah learning… I mean you could have dogs for years and not know all their them all quirks.

Rachel:  Yeah.  They're becoming aware of it.

Samantha:  Yeah.  So when people are shopping for technology, because like myself, not everyone is technologically advanced, what would you advice people I guess, what should they be looking for?  Because like you said, there's not a lot of products yet on the market as far as cameras, but there are options out there.

Rachel:  Yeah I would say first night vision is huge.  We actually didn't include night version in the first version of our product, it's in our new Petcube Play.  The fact of the matter is a lot of pets are nocturnal, my cats are hugely nocturnal, it’s not even worth it most of the time for me to go in and look at my cats during the day, night time is the time they're active.  So I would really say night version vision first of all.

Second of all, and this is one that I don't know a lot about but I had to learn while I was here, 720P camera versus 1080P camera.  It doesn't sound like that many difference in numbers but a higher resolution camera actually does help a whole lot.  And then I'd say looking for something… you know I think if you're looking out on the market and you're comparing a normal security cam with one of these specialty pet cams, with a normal security cam pretty much what you're going to do is be able to check on your pet and watch them there being sad, there's no two-way engagement to it.

So really I would look for a pet cam that allows that two-way engagement.  Whether it's treats, whether it's laser pointer, find something that lets you not just sit there and watch your pet and feel like sad about it but lets you actually do something about that engagement.  And I'm telling you it's just a magical moment when the first time you move your finger across that screen you see the laser pointer and you see your cat move their little…

Samantha:  Yeah.

Rachel:  …it's like that reach-out-and-touch-someone moment and it makes you really feel good like you're doing something for your pet.  So those are the three things I'd say, look for night vision, look and for a little bit of a higher resolution camera, it's worth it; and then look for that ability to interact and not just watch.

Samantha:  And one of the things I noticed too about Petcube, and I guess I do have one coming but I checked out the website and I checked out the app, it seems like it's been designed to be very easy to use, very user-friendly, which is something like I said, I'm not a huge tech person so some of the things that I've tried for Top Dog Tips have been…you know I've had to do some research and kind of read the manual and play with it a little bit before I could figure it out.  So I was really impressed with the app and how simple it is to use even for somebody that's not as technologically aware maybe.

Rachel:  Well we definitely… I mean you can tell just by looking at the product like it's got that Apple aesthetic to it, like we've backed into things much more, and this is one of our advantages, we back into it like a start up.  We back into it, we move fast with technology, we're very tech savvy, we put tech first.  It's not a cheesy looking product, it's not a traditionally pet looking product, it's pretty sleek looking.  It's much more Amazon Alexa, we're much more like Sonos or something like that looking than it is like pet looking.

Yeah, we're a technology native company, so I think we back into it with a really tech savvy point of view that puts us ahead of a lot of competitors that are coming from a pet space and maybe don't have tech first experience.  So yeah, that's just a native…of who we are, who our team is.  They've gone through a program called White Combinator which is really famous out here in Silicon Valley.  So yeah, we're a tech-first company, we're almost not a pet-first company which translates into a really fantastic user experience for our customers.

Samantha:  Yeah and I mean just talking of the device itself you know one of the other things I notice is it's small, there are other cameras for… even specifically for pets or security cameras that are larger and you can set it anywhere, some of them have to be mounted to the wall, which is a little bit annoying if you're a pet owner and you don't want to put holes in your wall or you don't have a good place to put it on your wall.  I like that it can be set anywhere, so for us we have our little beagle is kind of a troublemaker, she likes to get into things so I have a feeling that if I was talking to her or she was in tights enough she would probably knock it down.  So you have kind of the ability to put it up higher if you have a dog like that or in an area where your pet can't get it if you do have a dog that's going to do that.  So those are two of the things that I notice as well, the size and where we're able to place it.

It looks good in your home just sitting on your coffee table or somewhere, which is really nice, and maybe not necessarily a pet-first company but certainly the technology first you can notice that.

Rachel:  Did you get to choose a color that you wanted?

Samantha:  I didn't, they're just sending one. But I did notice on the website that they're available in different colors, which is great for people that are going to display it like in the living room or something like that and want it to match their decor.  So that's really great.

Rachel:  I mean our retention rates of how long people retain using their camera is really high and I think the fact that it blends into their home is something that really helps with that… it's not a little fun technology piece that they get and play with for a couple weeks and then throw away. You know I think the fact that yeah, it meshes with their home seamlessly, we have rose gold which for people that have that kind of copper home it fits in perfectly.  And yeah, it's designed to be something that you'll have a long relationship with and not forget about.

Samantha:  Yeah, it's really nice, it doesn't look like something that's just kind of a fun little toy that's hanging out there, it's actually designed to mesh in with your home.  So I really liked that as well.

Rachel:  Yeah, I mean I would encourage people to follow us on Instagram, follow us of Facebook.  We love sharing clips of the funny things that we catch on TechU, so if you're not sure about TechU, follow us on Facebook, we post tons of clips of hilarious pets hiding things, pets fighting, pets trying to jump and falling, you know like…I mean you catch hilarious stuff.  So if you're not yet sold on Petcube, please follow us on Facebook and see some of these clips and you're going to want to see what you catch of your pets.

Samantha:  Awesome. I will make sure to link your Facebook page too in the article right up and underneath the podcast so people can check that out with just a click if they want to do that.

Rachel:  Right.  Great.

Samantha:   Awesome.  Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.

Rachel:  Yeah,  no problem.  It was great to talk to you.  I love seeing your dogs.

Samantha:  Oh thanks, they're a handful but we love them.

My thanks to Rachel from Petcube, she's the Senior Marketing Manager over there like I mentioned in the beginning, and I just want to thank her for the great information.  Like I said I'm kind of have been thinking about monitoring our dogs a little bit when we're out of the house just because I worry about them, and after speaking with Rachel I realized how important it is I think for especially pet owners who work outside the house who don't have the opportunities that somebody like I have the opportunity to monitor our pets every day to observe them to see what's going on with them, so if their behavior changes and something's not the same it's easy for me to pick up.  But if you're not home as often, you know definitely being able to keep an eye on your pet and to see what they're doing and how their behavior is going, if it's changing, that's certainly a huge benefit.

So I'm definitely interested in Petcube and I'm going to check it out a little bit more and I hope you guys do as well.  Again listen to some of those tips if you're in the market for a camera, certainly some things that I didn't know about the types of the actual camera and some of the features that you should be looking for.  So great information, thanks to Rachel for that.

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.