Cats and Dogs
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Why do dogs not recognize Facetime?

This Device Lets People Video Chat With Their Pets

Tuan C. Nguyen

There are «pet owners» and then there are “pet parents.” For the latter, there isn’t an effort to a great or a price too high to make their little ones feel like part of the family.

Over the years, the multi-billion dollar pet market has happily catered to these truest of animal lovers, making it possible for them to spoil their precious furballs with facials and manicures at dog spas, specially-concocted fragrances and custom-designed orthopedic pet beds. Being so attached, you can imagine the separation anxiety pet parents experience when they’re at work or vacationing for an extended amount of time.

To alleviate this stress, a Minnesota-based startup has invented a two-way petcam that enables both owner and pet to connect and interact remotely in a manner similar to Skype or Apple’s FaceTime. The $350 PetChatz device features a «chew-proof» intercom-sized unit with a built-in speakerphone, camera system and interactive LCD screen that can be plugged into any wall outlet.

Connected via Wi-Fi, owners would then use an app on their computer or mobile device to start a «chat» session, which can be recorded and shared with others. A special ring tone signals to the pet that someone’s calling and an additional motion and sound detection system can be set up to notify parents of any activity around the house. While technically dogs or cats don’t have the ability to chat, people can use the «Greet & Treat» system to reward their pets by dispensing tasty treats and even special scents that are kept in a refillable hidden compartment.

Credit: Anser Innovations

PetChatz was created by Mark Kroll, a medical technology developer with more than 350 patents to his name. He holds the title of Minnesota’s most prolific inventor. The idea came to him about a decade ago when, while he was Skyping with his daughter, the family’s labrador recognized her voice and came running into the room. Kroll later collaborated with veterinary technician Lisa Lavin to to develop PetChatz and other similar long-distance technologies under a new venture called Anser Innovation.

«As a pet parent myself, I understand how strongly people feel about their pets,» says Lavin, who estimates that she has spent a total of $11,200 on vet bills and $80 a month on dog food for both of her live-in poodles. «We miss them. We feel guilty when we’re away on vacation and this is a way to alleviate that separation anxiety.»

If there is one aspect of these extravagant pet parenting products that some might find troubling, other than the cost, it’s that promoting them involves a great deal of anthropomorphizing. Though dogs and cats are intelligent, they still aren’t human, and treating them as such hints at a kind of resolute denial to accept the fact that they may not even enjoy being the benefactor of pricey skin treatments. Some experts think its a stretch to believe that the critter on the other end even recognizes a person being displayed on a screen.

«This product introduces the potential for interaction between the dog and the technology,» Margaret Duxbury, an animal behavior professor at the University of Minnesota, told the Star-Tribune a year ago. «It will certainly be disappointing if the dogs don’t respond at all [to PetChatz]. Perhaps they will respond to the voice but not recognize that the picture is of their owner. Does that even matter if they respond to the voice?»

Lavin claims that the company has since tested the device, with pet and human subjects, and discovered that pets can be easily trained to at least recognize the ring in a manner similar to a Pavlovian response. (Some animals have even been trained to be government spies.) As for whether a pet knows who’s on-screen, she says that would depend on how much visual technology the pet has been exposed to.

«What we found was that the pet who spends a lot of time watching TV is more likely to be compelled to recognize your image on the screen and follow commands than one who doesn’t,» she says.

What’s important, she emphasizes, is that this device does more for the emotional welfare of the owner than for the pet. If there is any benefit for the pet (besides food), she adds, it’s that the pet, especially dogs, receives some stimulation during the day, which animal behaviorists agree can do wonders for their well-being.

PetChatz is slated to be available for purchase on the product’s website and at select independent pets stores nationwide during the first quarter of 2014. For now, the company is taking pre-orders for the device. Packets of special treats and essential oil drops will also be available in the near future.

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Tuan C. Nguyen

Tuan C. Nguyen is a Silicon Valley-based journalist specializing in technology, health, design and innovation. His work has appeared in,,, CBS’ SmartPlanet and LiveScience.

Ever Wondered If Your Dog Actually Understands a FaceTime Call? 3 Vets Explain

Pretty woman at home

My sister recently brought home her first puppy, and while she’s excited, she wants to make sure the whole family feels connected to the puppy. Her kids are going off to college soon and she wanted to know if they can still interact with their dog when they’re away. So she wondered: Can dogs understand phone or video calls?

I’m no stranger to trying to have phone and FaceTime chats with my dog when I’m away. When I’m out of town for work, I often ask my husband to let my dog hear or see me on the phone. I’m not all that sure she quite understands, although sometimes she does perk up her ears and I swear she seems a little excited. POPSUGAR spoke to several vets to determine if we’re wasting our time trying to FaceTime our pets.


Can Dogs Understand Phone or Video Calls?

There’s no hard evidence for sure, but it usually depends on the dog, experts say. «Each dog is different, and while some dogs may react to hearing their owner’s voice or seeing their face through a device, other dogs might not show any interest at all,» Heidi Cooley, DVM, a veterinarian at Banfield Pet Hospital, told POPSUGAR. «If you’re missing your dog while away from home, it can’t hurt to have someone who is with them put your voice on speaker phone or hold up a video call to see if you get a reaction. If anything, it can help you feel closer to your dog until you’re reunited.»

Typically, dogs are more likely to understand phone calls and not so much video calls, added Zay Satchu, DVM, co-founder and Chief Veterinary Officer at Bond Vet. «Video calls are often lost in translation to the dog world due to their poor vision of small and up close objects. The brightness of the screen, combined with the small size, makes the image hard to focus on for them, and it is likely very distorted. However, they usually can pick up on the sound of their owner’s voice.»

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Understands a Phone or Video Call?

Signs that your dog might recognize your face or voice can include head tilting, ear perks, tail wagging, whining or barking. «Body language that shows alertness can indicate that they are hearing you through the phone,» Dr. Satchu said. «You can try giving a well-known command, but this is often a poor indicator because they are smart enough to know you aren’t present to reinforce the behavior — aka no treats for being a good boy.»

Dr. Cooley adds that if your dog doesn’t react at all to your voice or face on the phone, «Don’t take it personal. They are probably one of the many dogs that don’t respond to faces or voices on phones or tablets.»

Are There Benefits to Talking to Your Dog When You’re Away?

Besides increasing the bonding for the humans involved, pets can be comforted by the sound of their pet parent’s voice. «I’ve seen some dogs react positively to familiar voices or sounds,» says Paul M. Cunningham, DVM, senior clinician, emergency service, at BluePearl Pet Hospital in Michigan. «I’ve specifically seen this with boarding or hospitalized pets who get to hear their owner’s voice on the phone — they perk up, wag their tail, and generally seem more attentive.»

Could There Be Any Downsides to Calling or Video Chatting Your Dog?

Perhaps. Though many dogs may be comforted by the sound of their family’s voice, others may feel more anxious afterward. «For the nervous dog with a history of separation anxiety, hearing a familiar voice could potentially worsen their anxiety,» says Dr. Cunningham.

«I’ve witnessed this type of dog become frantic, looking for the owner of the disembodied voice,» he told POPSUGAR. «What was meant to be a loving act has actually had negative effects. I have never witnessed a dog responding — for better or worse — to just to the picture or video of an owner.»

Should Pet Parents Try Digitally Connecting With Their Dog?

Dr. Satchu recommends you think about how your dog normally feels when you’re gone. «Is he the couch potato, snooze-all-day type — or is he the pace-around-until-you-return type? This may help give you an idea of whether or not hearing your voice while you are not around is a good thing for them.»

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