Something To Bark About
A tail-wagging idea helps keep dogs safe and well-trained.
From Sean Kelly’s heartbreaking loss of his family dog, Roxie, when she was hit by a car, came the motivation to design a device that could prevent other pets from the same fate. The dachshund-mix pup got lost in the dark chasing a squirrel and was killed after running into the street. From that sad experience, Kelly was inspired to create WÜF, the World’s Smartest Dog Collar, crafted to train dogs to stay within a designed area and to track them if they don’t.
Kelly is chief executive officer of WÜF, a Boulder, Colo.-based wearable technology startup he co-founded along with chief marketing officer Lizelle van Vuuren and former Detroiter Jonathan Ozeran, who serves as chief technology officer.
A December online Kickstarter campaign raised more than its $50,000 goal for the collar that transmits data — including GPS tracking information and two-way audio communication between the pet and owner — through a Smartphone app.
“The WÜF team is incredibly excited by the interest expressed from nearly 500 backers for our collar during the Kickstarter campaign,” said Ozeran, a graduate of Hillel Day School and West Bloomfield High.
The current plan, he said, is “to extend our distribution via online ordering and strategic partners. From there, we hope to move to retail locations as demand increases and as opportunities arise.
“We can’t wait to connect with our growing dog-loving community throughout 2015, which will now also include a limited beta program for owners hoping to get their paws on the collar earlier (than the initial date of fall 2015), in return for their testing and feedback.”
Kelly says 10 million dogs run away every year. But beyond the tracking of a lost pooch, the WÜF collar includes a motion-sensing unit, Bluetooth and an invisible leash component, with the pet owner notified through a Smartphone if the dog approaches a set perimeter. At that point, the collar emits a vibration that the dog is trained to understand as a command to stop. Through the collar’s two-way audio system, the pet owner can speak to the dog, encouraging it with instructions to come back home.
Dubbed a “wearable learning device,” the audio component also is used for obedience-training commands, game instructions or even just to say ‘hi’ when the dog and his human are apart.
“Pet parents will be able to access breed-specific training guides and tips as well as dog-specific training progress within the mobile application, on demand at any time,” Ozeran said. “And through the WÜF community, valuable training suggestions and insights will also be available from other pet parents.
“A microphone can listen in and is capable of sending alerts when certain audio cues are detected or specific thresholds are met, like the dog is barking, crying, whining, growling or whimpering unexpectedly.”
Short audio commands can be recorded within the mobile application. In addition, Ozeran said, “A powerful speaker makes talking to a dog possible from anywhere in the world.”
Kelly said, “Most dog owners have the best intentions but a lack of know-how when it comes to getting the behavior they want from their pups, and the training industry hasn’t changed in decades. WÜF believes there is a better way to fit training and education into our daily lives to empower a whole generation of more capable and confident dog owners, leading to better behaved, more balanced and healthier dogs.”
Ozeran, a software engineer and product designer who grew up in West Bloomfield, joined Kelly last fall. “My background is in digital product development, technology startups and mobile engineering,” he said. “[Sean] needed a partner to take both the hardware and software further.”
Ozeran holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a master’s degree in computer and information systems from Northwestern University in Chicago, where he now lives.
“The WÜF smart collar studies a dog’s sounds, movements, location history and interactions to create a rich profile of its behavior,” he said.
Its accelerometer measures the pet’s activity and inactivity to learn how many calories it burns to help with feeding quantities.
Getting A WÜF
In addition to being waterproof and shockproof, the casing of the collar is — ingeniously — also bite-proof. Composed of sleek, ultra-stiff, durable elastomer, it comes in gray and orange with plans to offer more colors and styles.
“The collar’s interchangeable system allows for multiple colors and further personalization, like vibrant orange for a trip to the park, cool grey when walking around town, camouflage for the weekend in the woods,” Ozeran said.
“The collar hardware and casing work in conjunction with existing collar straps and come in a variety of sizes. We plan to offer the collar hardware, casing and strap as a single, purchasable product but anticipate most pet parents wanting to use their existing collar straps.”
WÜF ships with a built-in, globally enabled SIM card, with $10 in data credits that work like a prepaid cell phone plan with a pay-as-you-go balance.
The goal of WÜF is to manufacture the collar in the U.S., with the initial WÜF app being built for iOS devices running iOS 5 and higher. Development of Android and Windows is being discussed for the future.
The patent-pending collar is powered by lithium ion batteries, with a charger provided.
“The technology itself has enormous potential, from consumers to search and rescue, to military, guide and service dogs,” Kelly said.
There may be other pet-tracking products around as well as training devices that include shock, vibration and anti-bark methodologies; but on the WÜF website, creators boast that none of them “is taking the approach that WÜF has invented, turning a product that is always with your dog into a learning device that recognizes, analyzes and advises in real time.”
“WÜF is a collar unlike any that have come before it,” Ozeran said. “‘WÜF’ is our company’s unique branding, which represents our internationalism as a team.”
Even its spelling is distinctive, with two dots above the ‘U’, which he said, “allows for multiple different pronunciations because every dog also has a unique bark.”
Seeing the device as benefiting every dog, Ozeran said, “The WÜF smart collar helps pet parents forge a deeper connection with ‘man’s best friend’ in order to keep them safe, active, healthy and happy.”
Kelly reflects on how his family pet led him to bring those advantages to other dogs. “Roxie’s death gave me the motivation and inspiration I needed to form a high-tech company,” he said. “Such a beautiful little dog with so much life to live cut short at just 1½ years old.
“I have always been a believer to walk the world with your eyes open because there are signs and inspiration all around us. We can either let tragedy destroy us or we can use it as fuel. And with how many other dog-owning families affected by this same sort of thing, I’ve been burning with this fuel ever since,” he said. “Roxie’s loss will lead to millions of other dogs being found.”
For more information, go to getWÜF.com or send an email to hello@getWÜF.com.
By Shelli Liebman Dorfman, Contributing Writer