In a report by Rover, 93 percent of people surveyed said their pandemic pet “improved their mental and/or physical wellbeing in the last year,” and over 80 percent said their pet made working remotely and being at home during the pandemic more enjoyable. Some employers have taken note of the happiness our pets bring us and even plan to offer new pet-friendly policies.
But with life slowly returning to normal, some dog parents may not have the luxury of bringing their pups to work and will have to reluctantly leave them at home when they go back to the office.
This will not only be hard on people: Our furries who have been accustomed to having us around may struggle, too. Our dogs may suffer from separation anxiety, stress, or just plain ol’ boredom.
Whether your canine companion is a puppy or an adult, you may wonder how you can continue keeping them engaged and happy while you’re away from home.
Related: 7 DIY Dog Puzzles for Your Bored Pup
Well, we’ve got some good news for you. A company named Companion developed a device to keep your dog occupied when you’re away. Kind of like a robot dog trainer, the artificial intelligence machine occupies your pooch while also upping her skills.
“We couldn’t be more proud to be in a position to help owners as they have these more and more anxious dogs living at home during COVID and help them transition from that 24/7 period, to going back to work to whatever the new normal is,” John Honchariw, founder and CEO, tells This Dog’s Life. “Any dog benefits from this: young, old, whatever breed.”
The smart device combines automated training and treat-based positive reinforcement to help keep your dog engaged. Using sensors, the rectangular device is able to detect whether your dog has completed the task — like sit or stay — and rewards her once it indicates her movement and behaviors are aligned with the command.
Companion also comes with an app that allows dog parents to view videos of the automated training sessions; connects them with a trainer, or “personal coach,” to provide advice and insight; and is filled with helpful training content.
Related: How to Soothe Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety When You Return to Work With Music and Videos
With its infinite patience and consistency, Companion does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to training. The core curriculum is the same for everyone who uses it — a focus on basic commands, problem-solving skills, recall training, and of course, having fun. The coach has access to all the data coming from the device to see exactly how a dog is doing and how comfortable she is with the training process. If needed, the coach can personalize the curriculum based on lifestyle and a dog’s needs and progress.
“When we think of Companion, it really is this all encompassing service so you know your dog’s engaged, know your dog’s doing awesome stuff,” Honchariw says. “You also know you have this trusted point of contact to ask any question, whether it’s just basic puppy parent stuff or more advanced behavioral questions.”
But what the Companion team also wants is for dog parents to be actively engaged, so they can be the most successful with their human-animal bond.
“There will always be times when having the pet parent and/or human trainer will be needed — and desired!” Honchariw says of the in-training experience. “We strive to be a supplement, like almost leverage on your time, so that we can give you a dog that is going to be supercharged with repetitions and a supercharged readiness to go. But you take the final step.”
Companion has been quietly working away at reimagining training for the busy dog parent since 2018, offering trials for private paying customers. Already, Companion has worked with hundreds of dogs and created a buzz among the world’s largest pet companies and animal charities, including Mars Petcare, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Jimmy Kimmel’s Wheelhouse Partners, PETStock, and Central Garden & Pet. To date it has raised $8 million.
As of now, Honchariw shares they have more people signed up than they have the number of units available for the near term and are ramping up production, with Companion expected to be available to the public this fall or winter.
While pricing has not yet been announced, Honchariw says a monthly subscription to the premium product can be compared to the cost of a single session with a personal trainer.
Companion is exploring several forms of nonprofit engagement (It already has a relationship with San Francisco’s SPCA) and has plans to donate models to help lower anxiety in shelter dogs and get them adopted out faster.
“There are so many different possibilities that open up when you realize you have two-way engagement, and you have hours of this device and the service alone engaging with your dog,” Honchariw says. “Instead of passively observing an animal, if you can ‘have a conversation with it,’ then a number of interesting doors start to open up.”
For those interested in learning more, you can sign up for early access here.
Related: This Device Wants to Teach Your Dog to ‘Talk’ to You