By John Patrick Pullen
August 25, 2015

A rescue dog that, years ago, was snatched from the clutches of a puppy mill, my best friend has a little bit of an anxious streak. She tends to sleep while I work, but she also has a tendency to loose her marbles at any distraction. If my son is home during the work day, the FedEx truck stops in front of the house, or a thunderstorm is within 50 miles, she’ll pace like a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whine like an old timing belt, and pant like, well, a dog. I used to think the few times I’ve had to step out of the office, she would work herself into a tizzy. At least that’s what I thought until I installed Petzi.

A webcam-connected treat dispenser that can help pet owners keep track of their four-legged friends, Petzi is the latest smart home device that you never knew you needed, because, let’s be honest, you probably don’t. Any webcam can help you monitor your pets while you’re away — and nearly all of them do it better. But this gimmicky gadget can do something else, too: With the press of a smartphone button, it will let you treat your furry friend to a snack from anywhere you’ve got a data connection. What a lucky dog.

Petzi
Petzi

A little larger than a bathroom hand soap dispenser and about the same build quality, the $169 Petzi has a poor-to-average camera by today’s increasingly high-definition standards. But if you’re buying this device, you’re likely not fussing over specs. Using the Petzi smartphone app to connect the camera to my Wi-Fi network worked without a hitch, which is more than I can say for many web-connected devices on the market. And filling it with treats is also easy; simply pull off the cover and pour in some kibble. And I do mean “kibble” — Petzi only works with treats smaller than one inch, a lesson I learned the hard way after buying a box of standard-sized Milk Bones. (And now I’m stuck with a box of these pumice stone puppy treats. Woof.)

Upon setting up the camera, I left the house to work remotely for the day, periodically checking in on the little pooch to see how she was doing. It’s worth mentioning here that my dog, a mutt of undetermined makeup, is pretty darned smart. I often joke that she understands several languages, but doesn’t speak any herself. While she won’t fetch my slippers, she does understand when I tell her a wide variety of things, such as, “if you really need to lick yourself, please do it somewhere else,” and “the baby’s sleeping, so keep it down.” In fact, she won’t even eat a morsel of food dropped on the floor unless I give her the go-ahead first. That’s my girl!

So when I pulled up the video feed on the camera, I was disappointed, but not surprised, with what I saw: My dog could not have cared less about the strange object in the room — even though when you open the video feed on the app, Petzi makes a little noise announcing to the dog that she’s being watched. She just laid there, looking at the door I had exited through. Next, I pressed the microphone button on the app, which allowed me to talk to my dog through Petzi’s speaker. One ear perked, but she remained focused on the door.

One thing I like about Petzi is a feature I wish every webcam would adopt. In addition to the jingle alerting the dog that someone is watching, you can also hear the camera click to action. In other words, the camera doesn’t turn on until you connect to it with your app. It’s reassuring to know that this device isn’t a gateway for sly dogs to spy on your home.

When I finally hit the “treat” button, three tiny bones shot out onto the floor. The treats were so small and the camera’s resolution is so poor that I could barely see them on my phone’s screen. But my dog looked over — and then she looked back at the door. I wish I could have captured all this on video, but Petzi’s camera only saves still photos, perhaps the most disappointing part about this device. She eventually warmed up to the snacks — she’s not particularly food-motivated — but she stayed cool to the technology overall. She wasn’t even fooled by my voice on the speaker; she knew the only voice that mattered is the one that came back through the door.

Some people reading this might argue that my dog is more dysfunctional than Petzi. I’ve got no defense against that — she truly is a little weirdo. And besides, customer reviews for Petzi on Amazon average five stars, with people raving about how their separation anxiety-ridden pups were consoled by this camera-and-speaker combo. But my dreams of her latching onto the box as a proxy for me rolled over and played dead. The truth, I came to realize, is that my dog doesn’t want her own webcam. All she wants is her people.

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