Lori Brown's dog Cyrus is snuggled up with iCalmDog, a new digital device that plays calming music for canines.(Photo: Lori Brown)via USA TODAY
Forget the ball, stick and chew bone. Entertainment for dogs has gone digital.
On Aug. 1, DirecTV will launch the DogTV network, which has programming specifically produced for pups.
Fido can chill out in front of a TV screen that shows continuous three- to five-minute videos of "relaxing" content such as landscapes and "stimulating" content such as dogs running.
There will also be "exposure" programming that includes images and sounds of things dogs are commonly afraid of -- such as cars, fireworks or thunderstorms. By gradually increasing the volume on the exposure content, it will help pups to get accustomed to those noises, says DogTV co-founder Ron Levi.
The service will be free to DirecTV subscribers until Aug. 14. After that, there will be a $4.99 monthly charge.
"We've created the perfect dog sitter so that owners are guilt-free when they leave home and their dogs are relaxed," said Gilad Neumann, CEO of DogTV in a statement.
For on-the-go dogs, there is the newly introduced iCalmDog, which functions as a pooch-focused iPod, without ear buds.
iCalmDog plays pre-loaded, low-frequency classical music that is designed to calm a pet's anxiety. The small device, which has built-in speakers, sells at an introductory price of $71.95.
iCalmDog was launched in June by a company called Through a Dog's Ear, which sells music specifically designed for dogs. They sold out their entire initial stock, 120 devices, in one day.
iCalmDog is "designed to be mobile," so pet owners can bring it along to places such as dog groomers, dog sitters and veterinarian offices, says Through a Dog's Ear co-founder Lisa Spector.
These new high-tech devices join a market that already has CDs and DVDs that are intended to calm dogs, as well as laser light toys that keep pups stimulated.
Technology is one of the biggest areas of growth for the pet industry, says Kristen Levine, a pet expert and founder of pet-focused marketing firm Fetching Communications.
There's digital dog entertainment, pet GPS trackers, electronic fences and electronic dog doors. There is even a tracker that allows an owner to remotely monitor a pet's daily activity levels.
This past fall, the company Snaptracs launched a system that allows owners to access an interactive activity chart for pets that wear its Tagg tracker.
"It shows you during the day when (the dog) is active and resting," says Levine, who used the device when she was away at a conference to monitor her dog Chilly's activity.
The newest gadgets come at a time when pet owners are increasingly pampering their furry and feathered friends.
Total U.S. spending on pets is slated to hit a record $56 billion this year, according to estimates from the American Pet Products Association. That's up from $53 billionlast year and $51 billion in 2011.
Seven out of 10 dog owners have purchased some type of toy for their pet in the past 12 months, according to the APPA. They spent an average of $41 each on toys throughout 2012.
"It has to do with the whole humanization trend," says Levine. "We see pets as kids. We want them to be comfortable."
Nearly 57 million U.S. households own dogs, for a total of about 83 million dogs owned, according to the APPA.
As for DogTV and Through a Dog's Ear, the founders of both companies point to past research that shows certain sounds can calm down a dog.
Levi says the folks at DogTV also tapped into the advice of animal psychologists and trainers to create the ideal programming. In addition, they put cameras into 38 apartments to see how dogs would react to DogTV -- and changed some of the programming based on those test results.
"At first we had a lot of barking sounds on the channel," says Levi. "But we learned that dogs got irritated by that."
If DogTV and other pup-focused entertainment help keep Fluffy occupied, it could be a very good thing, says pet expert Levine.
"When dogs get bored, they tend to find things to do that we don't want them to do, like chewing our shoes," she says.