Pet Lover Geek Interview with PupPod Inventor
High Tech Dog and Puppy Game
Pet Lover Geek podcast about combining the PupPod and Pet Tutor® to create a high tech puzzle game that provides mental stimulation for dogs and puppies.
Listen to interview. Starts at 31 min into the podcast.
PLG: We just got done talking to Robin Bennett about some of her favorite toys and training things that are out there on the market that can really help enrich your dog. And she mentioned the combo of the PupPod and the Pet Tutor from Smart Animal Training Systems that she loves so much and we thought it would be really fun to invite the inventor of PupPod back onto the show. Now we talked to Erick Eidus a couple of...oh gosh...half a year, almost a year ago when he was first getting out there and talking about things, but we’re really excited to have him come back and tell us more and get a little bit deeper into what Robin was talking about. So welcome back to Pet Lover Geek Erick.
EE: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
PLG: I love your product and one of our dogs got to do some of the initial training with it...I don’t even know.... what was that…. like a two years ago or one and a half years ago...it seems like forever. That Oler came and played with the stuff done at WeWork, but it’s a really cool product. I want to give you a chance to kind of explain what PupPod is to those folks who didn’t listen to the original show that we did with you so they really get an idea about this toy that Robin was talking about.
EE: Sure. The PupPod is a multi-level puzzle toy for dogs that connects to a smartphone and also our smartphone app can connect to a Bluetooth treat dispenser or feeder so you can feed either meals or treats. And as the dog play with the PupPod toy, which we call the PupPod Wobbler, they earn treats from the dispenser, but the really interesting part is that the game keeps getting harder so as the dog learns, you can keep increasing the difficulty level so their always challenged. That’s the basic way the product works.
PLG: So I want to talk first about the different levels. So Robin indicated that her dog is at the beginning levels and the first thing that happens is the dog just touches it right. Then they get a treat for that very first level.
EE: It’s even easier than that. All dogs are going to go over to sniff the toy, because that’s just how dog learn about things...they go over and they sniff ‘em. And when they do that, there are motion sensors on either side of the toy that will give the dog a reward...and that’s the basis for how the dog learns that the toy is a tool for getting rewards from another source...like the Bluetooth feeder. Then the learning process begins. Then a dog learns to touch the toy. Then they have to touch it when a certain sound is played. And the pet parent can select from a list of sounds to find one that their dog likes...and one of the options we have is a doorbell sound, so you can desensitize a dog to a doorbell. Then the next level, once a dog learns to touch when a sound is played on the cue...they only have about 2 seconds after the sound is played to touch the toy and get rewarded. Then what you can do once they figure that out is increase the time interval between sounds so they have to concentrate longer. So you can bump that up quite a bit and one of the ideas that we’ve added to our product based on some of the conversations we’ve had with Robin and other trainers, is to also have an option where the time interval between sounds can be random because dogs will detect a pattern. So there are all these ways to increase difficulty and there are other levels beyond just touching on the cue. There’s a second sound at another level that we introduce and it’s what trainers call a discrimination task. The second sound just doesn’t give a reward, so the dog’s behavior will naturally shape to focus on the first sound and ignore the second sound because that second sound is not paying a reward. And then the next level of difficulty teaches the dog self control. If the dog touches the toy on the second sound, then the next time a sound plays, they get the second sound again and that doesn’t give them a reward, so they’ll learn over time to not touch the toy on the second sound and have the self control to only touch the toy on the first sound...and then they’ll get the rewards. And then we added another level of difficulty based on conversations with Robin that allows the pet parent to randomize the sequence of sounds so dogs can’t detect that pattern either, because in general trainers like to increase difficulty by randomization and disrupting patterns.
PLG: So I want to ask two questions about this. First of all, you mentioned that this works with a smartphone but the sound comes from the toy itself, not your smartphone.
EE: There’s two different sounds for people to understand. The first is the cue sound and the cue sound is what draws a dog’s attention to the toy...and that comes out of the toy. The second sound is called the marker sound and the marker sound marks the correct behavior, so when the dog takes the correct behavior, they’ll either hear the marker sound coming from your phone, if you don’t have the dispenser paired, so your phone will mark the correct behavior and cue the human to throw a treat...basically clicker training the human. If you have the dispenser paired, then the marker sound comes from the dispenser because that’s the food source, so the dog’s head will whip around when they hear the marker sound and the dog will know they did the right thing and a treat is coming in another half a second or second.
PLG: So I just want to make sure it’s clear to folks that you have to have your smartphone there with the pet, so it’s not something where you can just leave the house and turn this on and it’s going to do it’s thing so it does need to have you “present in the house” so your smartphone can be there… or I guess maybe a tablet or something that could also be paired with it.
EE: So there’s a user experience side and a technology component to your questions. From a technical standpoint, right now, you have to have a device local because if you want to use the Bluetooth dispenser, you need the device to be the middleman for the Bluetooth message between the device and dispenser.
PLG: That makes sense.
EE: But then there’s also a user experience component where over time we’re going to be making sure the product is really safe and the user experience is understandable for the dog, if you’re not at home, but there are some user experience issues such as...how do you communicate to a dog that game play is over if they’ve had enough time or enough calories, enough treats, or if the dispenser is out of food. There’s a learning curve dogs have to go through and the user experience of the software has to teach the dog that learning curve so the dog doesn’t get frustrated at the end of game play if there’s nobody home and your at work, they need to be cued that I did my activity and game play is over.
PLG: Have you found that it varies from dog to dog how long it takes them to start understanding these sequences?
EE: Usually the first two levels that are just teaching the dog that the toy is the tool for getting rewards...that usually happens in anywhere from one to a half a dozen interactions. Usually, it happens pretty quick. The learning to touch on the cue sound and building concentration as you ratchet up the time interval and get into some of the higher level...that can take weeks or months. In fact, pet parents should expect that their dog will take months to learn the game and it will keep the dog engaged for years, because the mental stimulation is not something they get bored with. I hear from customers and pet parents talking about plastic puzzle toys that once the dog figure it out they either empty all the rewards really quick or they get bored because it’s not challenging for them. But with our game, we definitely don’t see that.
PLG: We definitely see that. We have one dog who after he figure out the toy, he takes out the treat and turns it into a toss toy. And they it quickly gets destroyed. I want to talk real quick, before we run out of time, you can do this on your own where you just get the toy and you become the treat dispenser, but the magic that Robin was talking about is when it’s coupled with the Smart Animal Training Systems, specifically their Pet Tutor automatic feeder. So talk a little about that and how you guys have created a bundle that people can get.
EE: There’s a bundled offering at PupPod.com. You can find a link to read about the bundle and if you search for Pet Tutor… the company that makes the Pet Tutor is called Smart Animal Training Systems...and we actually are coordinated between the two companies, but we sell the bundle on the Smart Animal Training Systems shopping cart because they then do all the logistics to send out the kit with the Pet Tutor and PupPod to customers.
One thing that we haven’t talked about yet, but I think your listeners might find really fascinating is that once you get to the point where you are feeding your dog with this combination of products and you’re just putting kibble in the dispenser, you can feed meals over a long period of time. My dog will work for anywhere between an hour and a half to two hours to earn 1 cup of kibble and he’ll walk about a mile going back and forth between the dispenser and the toy in our living room. So for people in the Seattle area or the Pacific Northwest where the weather gets pretty inclement, it can be a great way to give your dog some extra exercise if the weather is so bad you don’t want to out for long walks or you can set up the dispenser and toy at opposite ends of a staircase to make a doggie stairmaster. And we’ve also seen scenarios where if a dog gets injured or is coming off an operation where they need to rest and can’t be as physically active, this is a great way to wear them out. You put the dispenser and toy close together and the dog has to concentrate which wears them out but their not having to do a lot of physical activity, like they can’t wrestle with other dogs or they can’t go on long walks so you need some way to wear them out other than having them in a kennel all day, which isn’t much fun for a dog.
PLG: I love how...the more intricate you’ve gotten with this integration with the Pet Tutor. It’s really just fantastic. And I love too that now you’re like it’s great for winter time activity but also for obese dogs. And that is an epidemic right now, so it’s really fantastic. Thanks so much for coming on the show today Erick and telling us more about PupPod and how you guys work with Smart Animal Training Systems. Really great stuff.
EE: Thank you. It was my pleasure.