Wagz CEO and founder, Terry Anderton, creator of Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar and the Kognition™ platform, saw pet possibilities in the wake of his children's’ heartbreak over a runaway puppy. After a five day absence, the puppy was returned to the Anderton family, and Terry made a promise to his kids that they would never lose track of their dog again. What he found, however, was that very little existed in the way of devices that could help him keep his word.
“I went to a big box store expecting to find a smart solution,” he said. “Nothing there was new within the past 25 years. All just old shock collars. Where was the innovation—the GPS and geofencing collars?”
With his extensive technology background, Terry decided to use his experience for the greater good. He was driven to create a humane way to keep dogs both safe and trackable without shocking them or limiting their freedom. What came of his search for a missing dog was the technologically-advanced brainchild that’s rapidly changing the pet tech landscape.
Wagz interviewed Terry for a peek into his mental laboratory.
“Pets had always been tethered—cages, leashes, fences...
I wanted to create a free pet. An untethered pet.”
What inspired you to enter the wearable tech space for pets, and what compelled you to create the Wagz Freedom Collar?
Seeing the lack of options pushed me to build something I wanted for myself. I started with some preliminary research and learned that the dog population had tripled in 25 years, but product innovation hadn’t. There was no innovation and branding in-store, other than in the food aisle. I saw the need for a pet containment solution and started to work on building what I envisioned—something with a Fitbit-like functionality that utilized the connected lifestyle (à la Nest, Ring) and connected it to pets.
I hired a firm to do a research study and help me understand the market better. I learned that, at the time, the pet industry was a 64-billion-dollar market (in comparison, the entire coffee industry was worth $48 billion). There was definitely an audience. We came up with our three core buckets: Health, via a fitness tracker; Safety via containment and GPS; and Companionship, because people have an emotional connection to their pets. The shock-free aspect of the Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar was a driving force and was there from the beginning. While I don’t write code, I’ve been in tech long enough to have some fluency, and we got to work.
I was also inspired by an older woman I knew of, who became unable to walk her greyhound because she could no longer control him. That felt unfortunate and unfair for them both. It helped inform and push the invention of the invisible leash. Pets had always been tethered—cages, leashes, fences... I wanted to create a free pet. An untethered pet.
“I want to break the barrier between human and pet communication.”
What does the ideal “connected pet” lifestyle look like in your mind?
The connected pet is really about solving problems for the pet-parent. It’s not about the tech, it’s about the problems we solve. What we’re trying to do is alleviate human problems. Having to go to work presents the issue of pet separation and anxiety around pet-parents having to leave their pets, who need to eat, drink, and be tended to. There ends up being a lot of stress around leaving and getting home for the pet.
We built Wagz on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where food, safety, and home (shelter) feature prominently as basic non-negotiable, universal needs. We hired the leading pet nutritionist to make food recommendations and partnered with VCA, the biggest pet health provider in the U.S., to study dogs and ensure that our algorithms were based on scientific research.
Ideally, the connected pet lifestyle is both a human and humane lifestyle. We use exclusively humane corrections with the Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar. In our minds, a connected pet lifestyle means a very human lifestyle. Petco just launched the Stop the Shock campaign [that announced that they will no longer sell shock collars] to promote exactly this kind of thinking.
We are collecting data from the collar to help people understand their pets. All of these capabilities—containment (via the Freedom Collar), nutrition recommendations, humane corrections, bark control (stay tuned for more on this in a future installment...) use the Kognition ioT [internet of things engine] to control other devices, not just Wagz devices. The collar data enables the ability to talk to Alexa and give your dog a voice based on your dog’s data. I want to break the barrier between human and pet communication.
It’s a pretty great time to be a pet. Are there any new products coming to market that excite you?
Many! At the moment, two things from Wagz are really exciting me. The Wagz Tagz, shipping in 60 days (as of October 2021), look like a Tile [which is a keychain-sized tag that helps people find lost items] and is essentially a bluetooth beacon that works to give shock-free corrections to dogs accessing spaces or places we don’t want them in. For example, if they’re on the couch against your wishes, it’ll tell them it’s not ok to be on the couch. The tag creates an indoor GPS, if you will, for your house, to tell you where they are while communicating keep-out, or keep-off, zones to your dog.
The pet industry has now grown to be a $100-billion industry, and nearly half of that spend is food-related. Kibble has been sold in bags for 125 years, but kibble is heavy, and the shipping logistics aren’t great. People want human-grade food now, and we are also inventing a Keurig-like system for food for dogs. We’ll ship freeze-dried human-grade food for a cartridge-like feeder that sits on the floor for your dog to access. We’ve figured out a way to have it work with the Wagz collar and all its data to manage autonomous feeding, reordering, and on-demand shipping.
“[Dogs] just want to be loved and want to love you.”
Do you think wearable tech for pets should be for every kind of pet?
Wagz’ focus is on dogs. But that said, a big part of our company is devoted to developing technology and intellectual property for other people and companies that can benefit from our tech. The Kognition platform (the AI behind our calculations and data) from which the Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar operates is a universal platform that’s compatible with other devices in this space. We license out our software, bringing our experience to adjacent pet categories, and it gives our partners the benefit of our expertise.
Do you ever think about partnering up with external applications to create a kind of pet social network?
At the moment with our Wagz App, we’re basically working to create Waze for dogs. You’ll be able to use it to locate dog-friendly businesses, hotels, restaurants, parks, and stores by looking for our patented dog identification emoji. When you’re opening the Wagz App and you’re at the beach or dog park, you’ll see any other dog that’s wearing our technology, whether it likes or doesn’t like other dogs, if it likes kids, and so on. That’s all coming.
There will be gamification features—if you want your kids to walk the dog, for example, we’ll have badging for the pet, and a leaderboard. We want to build this on a blockchain and create a petcoin, too.
Is there any product for which the technology does not yet exist but you wish it did? Do you think robodogs could eventually take over for real dogs?
We’d love to have a ”Petzilla”—a robot to clean poop out of your yard! There are so many areas for innovation between the players that currently exist. An emergency example: connected fire alarms that open dog doors to let dogs out. We also see a huge opportunity to improve dog heart rate and respiratory rate measurement mechanisms, because dogs’ fur prevents the kind of easy read we get from human skin on things like the Apple Watch.
As for robodogs, taking into account the companion animal marketplace and emotional connection people have for pets, I don’t think that AI could ever get so good that it could match the unconditional love a pet has for it’s owner. If there’s one thing people want in their lives, it’s love.
What are your thoughts on where the pet tech industry is headed in the next decade, and what are your aspirations for Wagz users?
Pet tech is much like every other technology sector I've ever been involved with. First, network systems evolved to help software and hardware come together more efficiently. So I can see how software and hardware work together well. Then in my experience, I saw that digital security went from multiple fragmented point solutions to enterprise solutions. There are a lot of point [or individual] products right now in pet tech—they’re fragmented and need to be more seamlessly integrated.
We want Wagz users to be able to use our technology to do things like create their own independent businesses. Dog-walking services, for example, that can use Kognition to help them have insight into your dog. Existing dog-walking companies charge hefty amounts but have no real knowledge about the dog. And, we want to have a crypto coin for international markets, too.
Tell us about your dog.
Well, I got this dog for my kids, but I've ended up being the primary pet parent. What makes [us] keep coming back for more are those everyday moments, like when I’ve had a bad day, and my pet comes up and nuzzles and comforts me.
They just want to be loved and want to love you.