My dog Sasha’s favorite hobby of all time is going to the dog park. She loves to run, steal other dogs’ balls, lap up all the water at the community dog bowl and then flip it over with her paws (anything is a toy to a 9-month-old German Shepherd). Maybe it’s just me, but I think she misses it now that we’re sheltering in place. Our daily walks and fetch games seem to bore her these days, and while Sasha is excited that I get to stay home every day, we’re running out of activities to do together.
I decided to check out what apps my phone had to offer. If Instagram and TikTok can keep me entertained for hours, why can’t a dog app do the same for Sasha? Over the next five days, Sasha and I tried five apps to see which ones we liked best. I rated them on a scale of one to three paws: three paws for apps that we could really sink our teeth into and spend significant time on, two paws given to apps that were a fun way to spend a short amount time and one paw reserved for apps that provided a brief distraction. Here’s how it went.
BarkHappy is social networking app for dog parents. It sends you daily matches of nearby pet parents with dogs who may be compatible with yours. You can send them “wags” (basically a “hello there”) and you (and other users) can add your pup to their “pack.” Once you’ve reached out to other pet moms and dads, you can message them and invite them to meet up for a pupper playdate.
Another cool feature is an interactive map of dog-friendly stores and vets in the area based on your zip code. This could definitely come in handy if, say, you’re on vacation and you don’t know where the nearest vet is located.
Although there aren’t many BarkHappy users in my area, I did end up connecting with a few pet parents and sent them messages and “wags.” Once I’m able to, I definitely want to plan a pupdate somewhere in LA. (I found another dog mom here who also has a black German Shepherd! What are the odds?)
This app claims to “help you identify your dog’s feelings with the touch of a button.” How exactly? Well, the translator has 30 “emotion” buttons that, when you press one, it makes sounds meant to communicate that emotion to your dog. Predictably, not all emotions are free to access (you get 18 free emotions, but have to pay 99 cents to access the rest). You can also use the microphone to “talk” to your dog, and it translates your words into dog-speak—or so they say.
I tried the microphone function first and asked Sasha if she wanted belly rubs. She just stared at me. I tried it again and told her to bark once if she could understand what I was saying. She looked at me and then jumped on the couch. Not off to a great start.
I then tried one of the emotion noises (the “sad” button). Sasha immediately responded—she tilted her head dramatically and started to howl. I tried the other emotions (angry, happy and confused) and she kept howling. OK, so maybe this app doesn’t technically work, but it’s pretty cute.
Even though Sasha graduated from puppy training school about six months ago, I always practice commands with her to refresh those skills as well as try to teach her new ones. Puppr is a dog training app that offers lessons led by dog training pro Sara Carson. The app’s lesson packs are divided into different sections, including New Dog, Silly, Useful, Circus and Agility. Most lessons are locked until you pay for either the individual packs ($2.99), which include about seven commands, or all lesson packs ($13.99). Not a bad budget-friendly option if you’re looking to train your pup!
Under the Useful lesson pack, I chose the “fetch leash” command, since it was free (and Sasha doesn’t know how to do this yet). Puppr provided step-by-step instructions, a graphic of the maneuver for each step, and a clicker button. Every time Sasha completed a step, I’d use the clicker and give her a treat. While she touched the lease with her nose, she struggled to move onto the next steps. We have such a distinct "time to walk!" routine, that it's going to take her a few days to understand "fetch leash." But I’m confident she’ll get the hang of it!
Lonely Dog Toy
This toy app provides your dog with interactive games that invite them to “catch” a moving object, like a beaver or fish, by tapping on the screen.
I’d definitely recommend a tablet if you’re going to try this with your dog, since a bigger screen makes it easier for your pup to see the target. When I tried this with a regular smart phone, Sasha just stared at the screen and booped it a few times with her nose. She became more excited when she saw the game on a larger screen, although she unfortunately never quite grasped the premise.
While Lonely Dog didn’t work for my dog, I’m sure there are other dogs out there who will enjoy this, especially if they have a higher prey drive (and more petite paws than my 80-pound Shepherd).
App for Dog
It was raining and I decided that it was arts and crafts day. I downloaded App for Dog, which is like a virtual canvas that lets your dog “paint.”
The app offers button sounds (clicking, squeaking and a bell), but those costs extra. I figured noises weren’t totally necessary, and in a pinch, I could just make them myself when Sasha pawed at the screen.
I set my phone in front of Sasha and showed her how to use it using my fingers, but she just looked confused. I tried helping her out more by placing her paws on the screen, but she started licking my hand instead.
Well, we tried!
At the end of my five-day dog app marathon, I learned that the more practical the app, the better the experience for my pup and me. Games were entertaining for me, personally, but I’m not totally convinced Sasha got a lot out of them. It’s been a long few weeks, so I’m just grateful for any way to switch up our routine.