Keeping dogs fit is no longer just a walk in the park

In January thoughts again turn to fitness metrics: 10,000 steps a day, eight hours of sleep a night, 90 minutes of strenuous exercise a week — and, of course, three squirrels successfully chased per trip to the park.

A company has created Fitbit for dogs. FitBark promises digital fitness for the whole family, including its four-legged members. Or, as its promotional literature puts it: “Get parents, kids, furkids and friends motivated on the first unified view of family health and wellness.”

But do dogs, even those treated as furkids, really need to be the latest owners of wearable fitness technology?

Absolutely, says Davide Rossi, founder of the US company. He argues that wearing the bone-shaped GPS tracker is not as silly as it sounds. Not only is it good for dog fitness, the data has given academics a new insight into the world of dogs.

“Yes, like Fitbit it is motivational, so you can measure activity and increase it,” he said. “It is also about using data to understand your pet, though. Dogs don’t talk. They can’t tell you if they have had a good night’s rest, or why. Maybe they are getting sick. This data can let you know.”

The device has been used to find out what a dog does when its owner leaves. In dogs with separation anxiety it can record how restless they are in the period after you shut the front door. It is also being used by vets to monitor recovery from operations or treatments, telling them if activity has returned to healthy levels.

More than that though, by combining so much data, the FitBark is able for the first time to say what normal levels of exercise really are, by age, weight and breed.

So Mr Rossi can confidently say that vizslas, spaniels and terriers require the most exercise, while beagles and golden retrievers are more content to do less. Golden retrievers also — probably a related statistic — get the highest quality of sleep. During fireworks celebrations, bigger dogs seem to be less restless. Maltese dogs are the most affected.

The habits of their owners are revealed too. Worldwide, dogs do most at the weekends and the favourite time for walkies is 6pm, with another spike at 8am. Britain is notable for having a culture of lunchtime walks while Swiss dogs get out the most, no doubt to take advantage of all those mountains.

Among those dogs going on a traditional British lunchtime walk, it was revealed this week, are a corgi and bichon frise. They have been accompanying the Queen for secret exercise since 2015 after their owner, the royal gamekeeper Bill Fenwick, became ill.

His wife Nancy, who died two years ago, was known as “keeper of the corgis” and was responsible for looking after the Queen’s dogs. The couple had been friends of the Queen for decades.

Despite pledging two years ago to have no new dogs, it was reported that after the death of Mr Fenwick, 95, the Queen may make an exception for them. Although if she does, it seems unlikely that she will also become a convert to FitBark. Whatever the health benefits, MI5 will probably not look kindly on the corgis reporting the position of our head of state’s regular walkies to a foreign technology company.

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