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Digital Dogsitter teaches barking dogs new tricks

Digital Dogsitter is based on a voice that makes the dog feel safe and calm.Juuso Kaari

This Finnish software is designed to make your dog’s me-time more bearable – and help you stay in good terms with your neighbours.

About 10 years ago, Juuso Kaari came home just in time to meet the police ringing his doorbell. His dog, a 3-year-old Welsh corgi called Väinö, was barking on the other side of the door.

“The police asked if the barking dog belonged to us,” Kaari recalls. “We said yes, the dog tends to bark at the doorbell.”

It turned out that it wasn’t the doorbell that had sparked the barking. Kaari and his partner Emma Kaari had moved to the terraced house only a couple of weeks earlier, and Väinö hadn’t been happy to be left behind when the rest of the family went on about their days.

The need for Digital Dogsitter emerged from Juuso and Emma Kaari’s experiences with their Welsh corgi Väinö. Image: Juuso Kaari

Listening to Väinö’s reaction to loneliness had gotten on the neighbour’s nerves. Thus, after a few days of relentless barking, they had decided to call the police.

The Kaaris had no idea what had been going on – after all, it was their absence that had upset the pet. Funnily enough, the barking stopped when the couple was coming home, so they had no reason to assume something was wrong.

Immediately after the police’s unsolicited visit, Kaari left a recorder in the house. When he got back home after being away for the day, he was no longer surprised by the neighbour’s reaction. Poor Väinö had started barking and howling about 10 minutes after being left alone and only stopped when he heard someone was coming home.

Something had to be done. Now, that something is an international business called Digital Dogsitter.

It’s all in the voice

Of course, it wasn’t in a day that the couple built the service; first, they tried all the tricks in the book to calm Väinö down. Kaari realised that had he understood the symptoms earlier, such as how overly excited the dog became when someone came home, he would’ve been able to suspect how uncomfortable the pet was when left to his own devices.

After plenty of practice, Väinö started to get better, but an hour on his own was still out of the question. However, Kaari noticed that the owner’s voice seemed to be the best medicine to the dog’s anxiety.

Digital Dogsitter is a family business based in Tampere, Finland. Image: Juuso Kaari

Thus, Kaari created a computer programme to respond to the dog’s barking by letting out pre-recorded voice messages. He could leave a computer or a tablet on at home and then keep track of the dog’s activities remotely on his mobile device. When the dog started making sounds, the programme automatically reacted.

With Väinö, the problem was gone in more or less a week. Other symptoms started disappearing, too: when Kaari came home, Väinö was no longer as pumped up about it as he used to be.

A couple of years later, Kaari got in touch with his cousin Eero Mäkelä, whom he knew to be a wizard in programming. The first version of Digital Dogsitter was free of charge, and the response from users was overwhelming. In 2015, the Kaaris and Mäkelä decided to take it one step further and founded a company called Think Tone, with users paying a monthly fee for using Digital Dogsitter.

Heading Stateside

Currently, most Digital Dogsitter users are based in Finland. The service exists in Finnish and English, and Kaari believes that there’s plenty of potential in the English-speaking world. He sees the US as a particularly mature market for such a service.

“In North America, consumers are very interested in their pets’ welfare, and the technology is already there,” he explains.

The increasing levels of digitalisation have accustomed people to making use of technology in all kinds of situations. Kaari points out that, for example, ordering food home through an app would’ve been an odd thing to do a decade ago, but now there’s nothing odd about it. Thus, using a computer to better look after a beloved pet feels natural to a lot of people – and the pet industry is ever-growing as well.

However, even Digital Dogsitter isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to all of your dog-related problems. Kaari says that there are plans in the making to collaborate with a research company specialising in dog behaviour. Some dogs have behavioural problems beyond the help of an app, and Digital Dogsitter wants to offer a hand to them, too.

“If Digital Dogsitter isn’t the right tool for your dog, then we want to offer contact details to nearby dogtrainers who’ll know what to do,” Kaari says. “This way, we can help both dogs and their owners in the best possible way.”

By: Anne Salomäki