Over the past few years, health and fitness tracking has expanded from a tech-obsessed audience to a major trend spanning all ages and levels of experience. With popular devices including the Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit, Jawbone UP, and BodyMedia armband, humans have got it on lock in terms of counting steps, tracking Zzs, and staying on top of sitting for too long. But until recently, dogs were missing out. Meet Whistlethe new activity monitor striving to keep dogs healthy and their owners in the know.

What It Is

The Whistle activity monitor, which is available for preorder today for $99.95, is a simple accelerometer that attaches to your dog’s collar to sense and track his or her movement.The super-light tracker is the size of a half dollar, but just a little thicker. Every ten days, built-in LED lights on the Bluetooth-enabled device notify owners when its time to charge. Once removed from the clip-on holster, owners pop the device into the magnetic docking station that charges via a USB cable.

Whistle doesn’t track steps or calories like popular human fitness trackers, but instead measures time spent active. When users first download the app, they sync the Whistle device to their smartphone (or other Bluetooth-enabled device such as an iPod or tablet). When in a 30-foot range of the device, the synced phone will receive information from the tracker. The online software tool and accompanying app show both the dog’s owner-initiated activity levels (like walks or playing catch) as well as the dog’s ambient activity level when he’s hanging out by himself (you know, doing what dogs do).

So why the name Whistle? “At the end of the day, the universal method of communication between owners and their pets is the whistle sound we make when calling out to them,” says Whistle CEO and cofounder Ben Jacobs. “A whistle is all about enhancing the communication between pets and their owners and closing the gap in our understanding of pets as a whole.” And that’s what Whistle the product strives to do, too.

Why It Matters

You may be wondering why a health and fitness site for humans is discussing pet health. Here’s why: Research shows dogs may better their owner’s health, and at least one report says owning a dog is probably associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. And others show dog owners are less stressed. Further studies suggest people with furry companions (relative to those who do not own dogs) have lower heart rates and blood pressureCardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs. Allen, K., Blascovich, J., Mendes, W.B. Department of Oral Diagnostics Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY. Pyschosomatic Medicine, 2002 Sep-Oct;64(5):727-39.. Just petting a dog can decrease people’s heart rates and breathing frequency, tooCompanion animals and human health. Edney, A.T. Veterinary Research, 1992 Apr 4;130(14):285-7.Physiological effects of human/companion animal bonding. Baun, M.M., Bergstrom, N., Langston, N.F., et al. Nursing Research, 1984 May-Jun;33(3):126-9..

Owning a pooch can also make humans more activeDog ownership and human health-related physical activity: an epidemiological study. Schofield, G., Mummery, K., Steele, R. Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. Health Promotional Journal Australia, 2005 Apr;16(1):15-9.. So while the intention of Whistle is to monitor dog health, a byproduct is human activity tracking. With a social sharing aspect of the app and computer software, Whistle users can share info and check in on other dogs and their owners. Nothing like a little friendly competition between man and his best friend! Whistle encourages doggie moms and dads to be a more active when they see their furry friend’s activity levels are low on a given day. “You’ll feel compelled to keep the dog active,” Jacobs says. “And that’s keeping you active, too.”

In the United States, nearly 40 percent of households own at least one dog. In fact, there are actually more households with dogs than kids in this country. We live in a pet-crazed country, yet we have little info on how to keep our pets healthy. The point of Whistle isn’t to help dogs lose weight or be the sexiest pooch on the block — it’s to provide pet owners (and vets, by extension) with more information. Fido can’t tell us what’s going on — how much he slept last Thursday, whether or not he patrols the living room while Mom and Dad are at work, or if he squeezes in an hour session of doggie calisthenics every morning (we’re only kind of kidding). Plus, the standard guideline of 30 to 60 minutes of activity a day doesn’t account for differences in breed, weight, gender, or age.

With Whistle, Jacobs hopes to close that information gap and get owners to bring their dogs to the vet sooner with a little extra insight. “As inherently wild animals, dogs want to hide their pain,” he says. While the family pet may run hard with the kids in the backyard, he may show signs of weakness when his owners aren’t around. With Whistle, pet owners can see decreases in ambient activity, prompting a visit to the vet before an ailment progresses too far.

Is It Legit?
Yes! (If you’re a dog person.) Whistle isn’t the first pet tracking system on the market, but it is a new concept. Its main competitor, Tagg, focuses more on GPS tracking than activity. Tagg also requires a monthly carrier fee, while Whistle’s app and software are free with the monitor. Whistle offers doggie analytics, but also provides specialized recommendations on top of the data based on a dog’s breed, weight, and age (plus owners can compare their dog to similar dogs). While owners can glean insight from analytics, the value lies in receiving alerts about changes in activity — about the dog and owner. Though doggie tracking may seem like an over-the-top luxury, it will be interesting to see if products like Whistle take off, and just how much they can affect owners’ health and fitness.

And just for good measure, we present you another adorable Whistle user.

Would you invest in a puppy tracker, or do you think it’s a totally silly idea? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.