A holiday present for Fido or Fluffy used to be an extra table scrap or a new squeeze toy. But as with gifts for their human counterparts, pet presents are becoming increasingly high-tech.
Truth be told, pet gifts are usually for the human who owns them. Allie Robino got a dog treat maker for her 8-year-old rescue mutt, Bentley, but it’ll be her baking the biscuits.
She bought the Sunbeam Holiday Dog Treat Maker, essentially a waffle-maker with dog-bone molds, for Bentley when she took him to see Santa Claus at a Fort Worth, Texas, pet store.
“A lot of these kinds of things end up being more complicated than the company promises, but this was super easy to use and the finished product looked great. Believe me, if it were possible to mess up, I would have messed up. I’m batting zero on Pinterest,” Robino says, referring to the photo-sharing website frequented by amateur chefs and crafters.
For owners who exercise with their pets, the Sharper Image Pet-O-Meter Pet Pedometer ($19.99) counts steps, calculates distance and tracks the calorie intake of the human partner.
There are apps that track pets’ whereabouts, like the GPS-based monthly service Tagg Pet Tracker, which can alert owners if a dog leaves a designated area or monitor a pet’s physical activity. For a simpler option, PetHub dog tags and collars make owners’ contact information accessible through a scanning app on a mobile device, and animal shelter and GPS tracking services can be added.
Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, says the best high-tech pet product is the microchip, which can be implanted in dogs, cats, birds, horses and other animals and will help reunite owners with lost pets.
“They are also widely used by industry professionals to track vaccinations, test results and other records,” Vetere says. “With GPS microchips now available as well, your missing pet can not only be tracked back to you, but you can now track them down and prove ownership if need be.”
Vetere predicts hot high-tech gifts this year will be microchip pet doors, which open using a chip implanted in the animal. The most popular products will always be those that make life easier for pet owners —— “like automatic feeders and water delivery systems, automatic litter boxes, grooming tools that comb and also vacuum up the pet hair,” he says
On his personal wish list is “an automatic yard cleaner that would pick up after my dog, but I don’t see how that would work without a robot.”
For pets and owners who do volunteer work — yes, there’s an app for that, too. For example, the $149.99 TouchChat alternative communication app lets people who have difficulty speaking play with a dog using voice commands.
Ricochet, a 4-year-old golden retriever from San Diego, works with people who have Down syndrome, are autistic or have suffered strokes. Patients touch an iPad, prompting a synthesized voice to deliver a command like sit or turn around or down. If the dog performs the command (and Ricochet always does), the patient can throw her a treat.
“No cues, inflection or interaction is needed from her handler. They can communicate with Ricochet directly, giving them a sense of independence, self-confidence and empowerment,” says owner Judy Fridono.