I ordered my FitBark (yes, it's a "FitBit for dogs") because I wanted to track Ruby Snoofer's activity. She's 11, and I wanted to make sure that a) she gets enough exercise when we're at home... and b) when we're out hiking or camping or backpacking, she's not getting too much.
I never imagined my FitBark, a tiny activity monitor that dogs can wear on their collar, would help me solve a mystery.
Three days after my FitBark arrived, I'd already started learning insights about Ruby's activity -- though, in order to really see "trends," you need to gather more data. (More on that in a minute.) Among other things, I learned that she typically walks about .1 miles in the morning before I wake up.
So imagine my surprise when I went to check her sleep metrics... and saw that she'd already done about a half mile's worth of activity.
Maybe she... got up several times for water? Or something.
The rest of the day was business as usual. We made some breakfast:
Skateboarded to the boba tea shop:
And even chased a rat at the park!
From: @TheHappyTalent on Instagram
When we got home that night, I went to my closet to put away some laundry -- and found myself at the scene of a crime!
My brand new foam mattress cover, which I had yet to put on my bed, had been destroyed!
I had a pretty good idea of who the culprit might be, but I needed proof. After all, I'd hardly caught the suspect red-handed.
Image: Life With Dogs
And, unlike Denver the Guilty Dog, not all suspects are easy to crack.
And, anyway, how could I accuse Ruby? I'd been with her all day! When would she have even done this?
BUT THEN I REMEMBERED!!!
That unusual FitBark activity.
I pulled up the FitBark app on my phone and looked at Ruby's rest and activity, and sure enough:
What was that activity between 2am-3am, Ruby? Huh?
Once confronted with the evidence, she quickly assumed her "guilty dog" face, and we decided on an acceptable punishment: social media shaming. Instead of posting her photo with a signed confession, may I present this:
Once it's on the internet, it's always on the internet, Ruby. I hope you learned your lesson.
In addition to helping me solve a mystery, my FitBark has already begun to have some positive effects on Ruby and me.
For one, as I wrote in According to Harvard Psychologists, You Can THINK Yourself Skinny, your mindfulness and awareness of your physical health and activity levels can literally make you healthier. It's kind of like the placebo effect, but different.
So how do you stay mindful? The article suggests that you:
Focus on your walking. Think about squeezing your glutes as you walk – what does it feel like? Pay attention to the grade – when you walk uphill, you work your glutes and calves extra hard. But going downhill is a challenge, too! In order to cushion your knees from impact and keep your speed under control, you must activate your hamstrings with each step. (If you tend to plop and make a lot of noise when you walk downhill, you could probably work on that hamstring activation -- try to absorb some of the impact with your muscles. Your knees will thank you.)
If you're having trouble staying mindful about walking, consider investing in some wearable technology. I bought a Striiv Play recently, and it’s… okay. I might recommend going with a Fitbit orJawbone, because they give you more and better metrics, such as how you’re sleeping, your heart rate, etc. Read more >
I didn't have a FitBark yet when I published that, but if I had, it would have been my top suggestion. Ruby's FitBark reminds me to take breaks from sitting during the day -- even if it's just for five minutes every hour.
Having a FitBark has helped me become more mindful of my activity outside of the gym -- which, as I wrote in 5 Fun, Delicious Ways to Prevent Weight Gain This Summer Vacation, is really important:
Burning calories during exercise isn't nearly as important as NEAT, or non-exercise calorie burn.
Levine's early research showed that some people, despite visiting the gym multiple times per week, are still obese or overweight. Other people never visit the gym, and remained slender.
The difference wasn't how much exercise these people got, but how much non-exercise activity they got. Which, from an evolutionary perspective, makes sense: we weren't designed to work out for an hour at the gym every day and spend the rest of our time sitting. We were designed to expend smaller amounts of calories throughout the day. Read more >
Having a FitBark has made me more active and mindful -- which, alone, makes it worth the $69.
But, to quote the FitBark team:
"We couldn't imagine a world where we monitor our own health, but not that of our dogs."
I love that I'm not thinking more about how much exercise Ruby is getting -- and I have a precise way to measure it.
Another thing I'm excited about having access to is a database of health information for her. As she ages -- and even just as she lives and explores -- she's bound to have injuries, illnesses, and body changes. And the FitBark will help me immediately pick up on changes in her behavior that are indicative of problems.
Moreover, in the event that she needs rehabilitation or physical therapy (like that time she jumped off the balcony chasing a squirrel...), the FitBark can help measure her recovery and progress.
According to the website,
Imagine a typical 13-week recovery from ACL surgery. Now you can work with your veterinarian to monitor how rehabilitation is progressing compared with two benchmarks. The first is your dog’s daily activity baseline before surgery, which you’ll be aware of if you have at least a week or two worth of FitBark data. The second is your dog’s ranking vs. dogs of similar age and weight, or similar breed, which we send you in your weekly report. You can visualize these rankings in greater detail on FitBark Explore (requires a desktop computer).
The FitBark can also help with pain management. As per the FitBark FAQ:
Dogs in discomfort don’t get good rest. Like humans, dogs in pain often try to shift position to change angles and pressure points seeking relief. This is pretty easy to spot in the FitBark mobile app. As your dog heals or improves from a certain medical condition that gives him discomfort, you’ll typically notice a corresponding increase in his sleep score…
…as well as a point decrease in his hourly activity at rest.
This is exactly the kind of feedback I want to have for Ruby -- not only after an injury, but also after a hike or backpacking trip. I have some big plans for our summer, which involve mountain lakes and hot springs...
And I want to make sure we're not overdoing it. After this:
She's so cute! Hiking the Trinity Alps in her little Doggie Backback!
I want there to be plenty of comfortable this:
I'd kind of hoped the FitBark would have some way to tell me if Ruby is exerting herself too much in the heat, since it's summer, and I've lost a dog to heat stroke before. The current model doesn't have that -- but who knows what will happen in future generations?
One more feature I love about the FitBark is that you can use it to determine exactly how much to feed your dog.
Because you know how, on the dog food bags, they tell you how much to feed your dog based on weight ranges, and the ranges can be twenty pounds or more? That's pretty imprecise.
But! If you ask your veterinarian to assess your dog's Body Condition Score (BCS) and what his ideal weight should be, you can then:
1) Monitor his calorie burn for a couple of weeks with the FitBark mobile app and average out what you find. (That's a process that will soon be automated.)
2) Feed below calorie burn if your dog needs to lose weight, or above if he needs to gain weight. (Read more.)
The whole family should eat a healthy diet.
This is especially relevant for us right now because Ruby was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Her activity level has changed dramatically since she started on her new medication -- she went from "lethargic and basically dying" to "OMG she's acting like she's eight years old again!" in under two weeks.
And in the past two months, she's also lost almost fifteen pounds.
Correspondingly, her eating habits have changed, and I really want to make sure she's getting the right amount of food.
If the FitBark never does anything except what I've described in this post, I will be extremely happy with the product. But part of me suspects that this is the kind of product I will appreciate more the longer I keep using it.
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