Teaching New Tricks

Isn’t it time dogs benefited from cognitive and neurological science?


Even the most well-behaved dog can get into trouble when left unattended. With most American households abandoned for the workday, man’s best friend is often left alone—bored, anxious and likely to wreak havoc on a favorite pair of sneakers (or worse).

Courtesy: CleverPet
CleverPet co-founders Leo Trottier, M.S. ’07, and Dan Knudsen, Ph.D. ’13. Courtesy: CleverPet

Leave it to Tritons to find the solution—one that goes beyond curing boredom and preventing messes, and uses research to revolutionize our pets’ lives. Such was the goal of Leo Trottier, M.S. ’07, and Dan Knudsen, Ph.D. ’13, two UC San Diego graduates who saw the unique opportunity to apply their scientific skills to a market that has been historically dry of new technology.

The pair co-founded the company CleverPet, whose first offering is the Hub, an interactive and adaptive tool that engages dogs in automated activities using food to incentivize successful completion of various learning games. Via three touch pads, an array of lights and the ability to record an owner’s voice, the Hub cognitively stimulates dogs while keeping them happily busy and curious. Drawing upon Trottier and Knudsen’s background in research science, the console was designed to constantly adjust its difficulty level and interaction patterns according to data sets that are analyzed over the device’s cloud connection. Wi-Fi connectivity and a mobile app also allows owners to monitor their pups via live updates, set a schedule, and manage food intake.

The roots of CleverPet can be directly traced back to Trottier and Knudsen’s graduate studies at UC San Diego. Though neither studied animal cognition specifically, Trottier’s cognitive science and Knudsen’s neuroscience education greatly influenced the research-based origins of CleverPet. “Brains are way more similar than they are different from each other,” Trottier explains. “Emotions like anger and fear, those things are preserved across species. You look at the way learning works—that is preserved across species. If you look at the way social interaction works, certainly among other social animals, there’s a lot of commonality.”

Marrying technology and behavioral research proved to be a popular concept with the public, who gave the Triton duo their start. The potential of CleverPet was realized in spring 2014 with a crowdfunding campaign in which more than 1,000 backers helped raise $180,000 in funding, nearly double the original goal.

“People who have dogs today understand and feel the responsibility,” says Trottier. “They get that their dog needs something to do.”

In January 2016, the CleverPet Hub received a successful, award-winning launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With news headlines touting “The Hottest New Gaming Console Is for Dogs,” Trottier and Knudsen have received a tremendous amount of interest from retailers and consumers alike, all clamoring to get their paws on one.

For Trottier and Knudsen, the Hub is only the beginning. The pair intends to create a full-fledged product line to change the entire lifestyle of our pets by making the whole home an interactive, intelligent virtual playground. “If you give an animal something to do, they’re way happier, they’re less stressed out, they don’t show signs of depression. There are all these great benefits to enriching the environment of an animal,” says Trottier. “We think this is the beginning of a long, long journey of discovery, certainly not just for CleverPet, but for people to better understand their dogs.”

Learn more at getcleverpet.com