News & Politics

Shedding Pounds With Your Dog

Fitness-tracking technology for both people and pets helped a local woman and her dog get in shape together.

Illustration by Britt Spencer

What was once a point of pride for Tawny Hammond soon turned into a problem: Everyone loved her dog, Rosie. Her family, friends, and coworkers at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter all wanted to feed Rosie treats every chance they got.

And that affection showed. At just three years old, the medium-size, orange Lab mix tipped the scale at more than 80 pounds, at least ten pounds overweight. “Food is love for a lot of people, and they wanted to spoil her,” Hammond says. “She started getting chunky.”

Hammond had also neglected her own health over the years, despite having been an avid runner and basketball player through her twenties. It was time for the duo to drop some pounds. Hammond signed up for Weight Watchers and enrolled Rosie in Olde Towne Pet Resort’s Fido Fit Camp, a two-week exercise program in Sterling for dogs.

Hammond strapped a Jawbone Up24 to her wrist. The fitness tracker monitors calories burned, hours slept, and activity levels. Rosie was given a tracker, too. Hammond began to follow the dog’s movements on her smartphone, thanks to a special GPS device Rosie wore on her collar as she ran, swam, and did “Pawlates,” a Pilates workout for canines. The device constantly monitored how long Rosie was active or inactive during camp, and it sent Hammond a daily report through Whistle, an app that allows owners to keep tabs on their pets remotely.

Fitness trackers have become a popular accompaniment to human weight-loss programs, with one in five US adults using some form of technology to track his or her health, according to a 2012 Pew Internet report. While pet-fitness tracking is a relatively new concept, it couldn’t come at a better time, says Sean Prichard, who owns a local dog-fitness company called Pant & Wag.

With about 54 percent of all US cats and dogs either overweight or obese, Prichard says pets need all the help they can get: “I think the biggest benefit of these services is they will help some people see how inactive their dogs really are.”

Voyce, an app that functions similarly to Whistle, measures a dog’s heart and respiratory rates with a special collar. Prichard’s favorite, SlimDoggy, is a calorie-counting app that features a database of more than 2,000 dog foods and treats.

Fido Fit Camp began using Whistle in January, outfitting each dog camper with the $129 collar device. Hammond watched from her phone as Rosie shed more than 2½ pounds and about two inches off her waist and chest. “I could see what she was doing,” Hammond says. “No one could cheat me.”

Hammond continues to use the Whistle app with Rosie, now a healthier 74 pounds. She says she and Rosie are both on their way to meeting their goals of losing 70 and 5 more pounds, respectively.

And the dog still has plenty of fans. “Everybody’s gotten into Rosie’s health,” says Hammond, who posts photos of her pet’s progress on Facebook. “They all say she looks so good.”

This article appears in the July 2014 of Washingtonian.