A growing number of start-ups offer apps and gadgets to help you walk your dog or feed your cat, but most aren’t worth the money.
Smartphones have become the go-to tool for hailing a car and ordering delivery food. But summoning a dog walker? That could take some getting used to.
A growing number of start-ups offer apps and gadgets that help you take care of your pets. So-called pet tech — yes, it’s a thing — includes automatic treat dispensers, surveillance cameras embedded with laser pointers to remotely play with your pets, and apps that connect you with a dog walker or sitter with the tap of a button.
Be warned: A majority of pet tech products are ineffective gimmicks that probably aren’t worth your money. I tested many and found only several to be occasionally useful: an app for hiring dog walkers, an app for boarding your pet at someone’s house, and a pet location tracker.
Unsurprisingly, pet tech is still a nascent market. In 2016, Americans spent $66.75 billion on pet products, according to the American Pet Products Association. While the biggest chunk was devoted to pet food, pet owners spent $14.75 billion on supplies including beds, collars, leashes, bowls and, among all that, pet tech accessories.
In the end, pet owners will probably agree that technology isn’t an adequate substitute for human companionship. But some products are nice to have just in case you are pressed on time.
What follows are the products that did — and did not — make the cut after I tested them on my pet corgi, Max Fischer, and my cat, Cuddy.
The Best Pet Tech
Of the many pet products I tested, a few stood out: Wag, an app for hiring a dog walker; DogVacay, which is billed as an Airbnb for dog boarding; andWhistle, a tracker for monitoring your pet’s location.
Wag is an app that most dog owners should consider installing on their phones just to have as a backup option. It is the best-designed and most efficient app for summoning a dog walker with some or no advance notice.
The Wag app is surprisingly thorough from the start. After signing up for the service, it asks whether you want to receive a free lock box so that dog walkers can get your house key with a combination code when you aren’t there. I opted to get the lock box, and a courier delivered it a day later. Installing it was a breeze: A text message appeared on my phone with the combination code to open the box; I dropped a spare key into the box and attached it to my door knob.
Where Wag truly shines is the experience of connecting you with a walker. You can book a specific date and time in advance or summon a walker as soon as possible, and the app will match you up with someone who is available. When I chose to book a walk immediately, a walker showed up at my door to fetch Max about 30 minutes later.
The Wag app includes the ability to follow the walk in real time on a map. My walker even sent short videos of the walk and marked wherever Max relieved himself — a superfluous but strangely satisfying feature. After the trip was completed, I received a report card summarizing the length of the walk and Max’s behavior. I paid $30 for the 30-minute walk, including a $5 tip that I added through the app.
DogVacay is an app that lets you board your dog at a person’s home rather than a traditional boarding service. Hosts name their price and you can search for them based on their location and dates of availability. It took one try to find a host who could board Max for a day, and the overall experience was smooth. After booking and paying $60 for the boarding, I dropped Max off for his slumber party.
While testing Wag and DogVacay, I found the pet GPS tracker Whistle to be a useful tool for making sure dog walkers and sitters were actually doing their jobs.