FitBark Digs Up Dogs’ Activity Data for Their Owners

Seeing dogs riding in cars with their ears flapping in the wind is common in summer, but canines need much more exercise than sticking their heads out of windows. FitBark, based in the Forest Hills section of Queens, believes its wearable activity-tracking device for dogs will help pet owners understand how much running around their pooches get each day, especially while they’re at the office.

The startup—no relation to San Francisco’s Fitbit—has developed prototypes and plans soon to take another bite at raising money, for mass production, through Kickstarter after cancelling a prior campaign in late May.

At this spring’s NY Tech Day, I caught up with Davide Rossi, co-founder of FitBark, who says the device shows pet owners activity level patterns that reveal when dogs are more likely to be dozing versus running around. Pet owners can receive updates in real-time and decide if they need to pick up the pace for their dogs’ routines. “It’s for us to teach ourselves how to be better dog parents,” he says.

FitBark is a small device that attaches to dogs’ collars and throughout each day registers physical activity data that the company’s software platform interprets for the pets’ owners. The Web-based platform gives the dogs what is called a BarkScore that shows how consistently they have been meeting daily activity-level goals. This information can be monitored over the Web and via a mobile app.

Several other companies have bones in this space, offering rival devices for pet owners. Snaptracs, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, produces the Tagg device, which includes a GPS tracking system in addition to monitoring pet activity levels. Meanwhile, Whistle in San Francisco is taking preorders on its own activity tracker.

At the same time, a small, feisty pack of startups in New York focuses on some other interests of pet owners. BarkBox, which launched in late 2011, delivers a monthly selection of pet goodies to subscribers. Inubar sells an eclectic mix of well-designed pet toys and accessories through its e-tailing site. Waggit is an online service that connects people to share in pet sitting, dog-walking duties, and puppy play dates.

Rossi says he and his sister Sara, a fellow co-founder of FitBark, wanted to create a way to ensure their father was walking their dog, Freud. “Along the way, we saw this had the potential to become something more serious and interesting,” he says.

FitBark’s device transmits data when it is within range of a Bluetooth-enabled receiver in the home as well as smartphones running the app. This lets dog walkers track the pooches’ activity levels during their jaunts. Getting updates during the day through the platform, Rossi says, might also alleviate guilt that some pet owners may feel while they’re away at work.

Operating under the radar for about a year, FitBark launched its first Kickstarter campaign in April but cancelled it in late May after a bit more than $52,000 (half the goal) was pledged. FitBark pulled the plug after reassessing pricing, production, and distribution.

For his part, Rossi previously started a toy car company, BRM Model Cars, in 2003 in Italy after he worked as an engineer designing engines for sports car maker Ferrari. He also worked in investment banking covering financial technology companies.

Rossi says FitBark is more of a hardware company than a software company, which raises a number of challenges such as manufacturing, mechanical design, electronics design, and on the software side, writing algorithms to interpret what dogs are doing. “It’s tough to put it all together and make sure that things play well together,” he says.

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