Watching Your Watch Dog: Home Pet Monitoring Systems

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Technology is amazing! In the past, people depended on dogs to guard hearth and home. Today, electronic security systems do that. Ironically, now pet owners use home monitors not only to watch their homes, but also to watch their dogs!

Why monitor your pet?

You know and trust your dog, right? He will not tear up the sofa and is house-broken. He will not scratch at the door after you leave or sulk the entire time you are away. Do you really know what your dog does when you are not watching him? Sure, you have irrefutable evidence if he chews up the sofa or wets on the rug, but do you know if he was happy without you there? You will know without a doubt if you have a home monitoring system for your pet.

A monitor will let you know if your dog (or cat) is nervous, sick, bored, or misbehaving. A pet cam will allow you to leave home and still keep an eye on your furry friend. If you worry about your fur baby while you are away, pet monitoring may be the best thing for both you and Fluffy!

What types of monitors are available?

There are many different monitoring systems on the market. Some are simple security cameras that only allow you to watch your pet. Other systems have features that allow you to not only see, but also talk to your pet or even give him a treat! And some allow your pet to see and ‘talk’ to you. This type of remote interaction makes separation less stressful for many pets and their owners. Frequent electronic contact with the owner may decrease a pet’s separation anxiety and boredom. How nice to return home from work to find an intact sofa and a happy dog!

What should you look for in a monitoring system?

Monitors have a myriad of features, so it is important to do a little research to find the one that best fits your needs. Here are some things to consider when shopping for a monitoring system:

  • Quality of video. Some pictures are more refined than others. Remember that you will be viewing the video from your smart phone, tablet, or computer so quality may be limited on that end as well. Just how distinctly do you want to see Fluffy?
  • Range of vision. Some units have limited range while others have a wide-angle lens that captures roaming pets. Consider the size and floor plan of your home. While wide-angle viewing allows broad monitoring of an open concept home, some floor plans require multiple cameras that follow the pet as he moves from room to room.
  • One-way versus two-way cameras. Do you want to just peak in on your pet or do you want him to see you, too? If you want him to see you, a two-way camera is needed. Be aware that some dogs may think that their beloved human is trapped inside a tiny box and become more upset – know your pet and decide if a two-way camera is wise.
  • Audio communication. If you want to speak to your pet, consider a system with audio transmission. As with video, some devices are more refined. Do you want to sound like yourself or will your pet tolerate less distinct speech?
  • One-way vs. two-way audio. If you want to have a ‘conversation’ with your pet, you will need an audio system that relays sound both ways. Some devices have an alert that will notify you when your dog is barking at something.
  • Night vision cameras. If you are gone at night and the house is dark, you may want to invest in a camera with a night vision lens. This is especially helpful for cat owners since felines are nocturnal creatures.
  • Treat dispenser. Some units have a treat dispenser that delivers a yummy morsel at your command. This feature may facilitate training, (i.e., you can have your dog sit and remotely reward him). Some dispensers emit a sound (like a training clicker) before the treat is served. You can also use the treat as a calming tool for anxiety. Familiar smells can also calm a pet, so some units emit aromas as well as treats! The treat size needs to be compatible with the dispenser. Most launchers work best with treats smaller than an inch in size.
  • Mounting options. Some units sit on the table while others can be mounted to the wall or on the floor. Identify your pet’s favorite spots in the house before setting up the camera(s).
  • Privacy concerns. Your goal is to watch your pet, without giving anyone else access to watch the inner workings of your home. Investigate privacy safeguards before choosing a system. Some companies allow you to make observations from multiple devices (smart phone, tablet, computer) but link accounts to only one e-mail address. If there are multiple users on your system, you can share a group account and password. Some systems allow a maximum of two users connected simultaneously.
  • Play time. Some monitors come equipped with a laser pointer that allows you to interactively play with your pet from basically anywhere. You can actually sit at your desk in your office and drag your finger across the screen of your smart phone and enjoy a game with your cat or dog or give them a little exercise. Be aware that some behaviorists do not promote laser play.

What else should you know?

Pet monitoring can be very sophisticated. Some monitoring devices allow your pet to initiate a call. A light on a paw-controlled sensor tells your pet when you are available to chat. This feature requires a well-trained pet and pet owner!

"Pet monitoring can be very sophisticated."

Some units monitor the pet and his environment. Apps are available that measure ambient temperature so you can remotely adjust the thermostat. Does the monitor show the sun glaring through the front window? A smart house will allow you to remotely close the blinds.

And some devices have an optional cloud service to store all the cute photos and videos of your pet. There is even a camera that attaches to your pet’s collar or harness that lets you see the world from his point of view. This is especially fun with outdoor pets if you consider a camera that works without WiFi.

We may not need dogs to guard our homes any more, but we definitely need them! Technology is amazing but so are our pets! These furry creatures are family members and a monitor to watch over them and our homes may be a good investment.

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