Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Dog-related phone apps pique curiosity, but fall flat
Last Sunday - a blustery, gray, snowy, typical mid-winter morning - I was reading the Sunday News, stretched out comfortably on the couch next to the fire. After reading the news, opinion, business, and sports, my habit is to end with the Lifestyles section to do the Sunday puzzles. On the same page is Mobilewalla's reviews of Apple and Android apps, which I scan, occasionally seeing an app that might be interesting. Because last Sunday's apps were all dog-related, I checked them out.
I confess I have an aversion to purchasing an app (even for as little as 99 cents) unless it's related to business productivity, and I'm not into computer games. Spending a buck to dress up a virtual puppy, take it to a dog park and have it play with other dogs has less than no appeal (and I can't see any redeeming value in reviewing it), so I'm reviewing only the free apps.
The first one that caught my interest was "Dogs Repeller," available only to Android users. The man of the house (TMOH) has an Android phone, and despite his reluctance to download anything (he uses his phone to make phone calls - go figure), he acceded to my request to test this app. The description read, "So not all of us are dog lovers. Whether you are afraid of or allergic to dogs, this humane ultrasound generator will keep those canines away from you. (Score 64/100)."
This app could be used as a high-range hearing test, because I couldn't hear it at all (possibly a result of damaged hearing from working around barking dogs my entire adult life). But TMOH could hear it. He clearly distinguished between on and off, describing the sound as mildly annoying as he imagined a mild case of tinnitus might be. But would it repel a dog?
Kochi, our Okinawa refugee, was curled up in front of the fire about 3 feet from me. He didn't react to the Dog Repeller at all. As I held it about a foot away from him, he changed position, stretching out onto his side, bringing his head even closer to the phone - clearly not repelled. This is a free app, but my stringent consumer testing rates this app as 0/100. Certainly nothing to rely on to repel a dog.
The second app I checked out is "Perfect Dog: Find your perfect dog with this comprehensive guidebook to more than 230 breeds from around the world. Whether you are looking for a Bichon or a Visla [sic], you will find it here. (Score 69/100)."
I downloaded the app, filled in the search criteria questions (such as desired size, temperament, coat and grooming information) and learned that the Dutch Smoushond is a 65 percent match for me. Never heard of it? Me either. On the other hand, a redbone coonhound is an 87 percent match as is a Brittany (incorrectly called "Brittany spaniel"). A bloodhound is an 84 percent match, as is a field spaniel. There being a night-and-day difference between a sporting dog (Brittany or field spaniel) and either of the hounds, I don't think this app is a way to find "your perfect dog," but it does have a nice photo gallery and brief description (albeit lacking in candid assessments) of each of the 230 breeds.
Finally, there was a "Dog Whistler" app for 99 cents that I chose not to download. Supposedly "[t]raining your new puppy will be a snap with this high-frequency dog whistle (Score 69/100)." Because I couldn't hear the dog repeller, I figured I wouldn't be able to hear the dog whistle either. I've always wondered how a human is supposed to tell if a "silent" high-frequency dog whistle is working. If your dog doesn't respond, might it be broken? To paraphrase the philosophical question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If an owner blows a broken whistle, and the dog doesn't hear it, is the dog being "bad"? I can answer that. Nope!
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.