Dog Parkers, for the unaware, are the electronic dog houses you may have seen popping up around Brooklyn recently. The idea, basically, is that instead of tying your dog up outside while you run errands, you pay to keep your dog safely locked in one of these little enclosures and keep an eye on your pup via an app. It’s like Über for dogs, except instead of a car it’s a dog house, and instead of getting a ride you stay still and instead of supporting morally questionable causes you put your dog in a dog house. I’ve been noticing Dog Parkers popping up around my neighborhood lately and yet I’ve never actually seen a dog in one (despite the company’s best efforts), which got me thinking: Is it actually a good idea to put a pup in one these things? Or is it (as I couldn’t help but suspect) like locking your dog in a tiny, terrifying dog prison that’s barely like an Über at all? That’s why this week I decided, like any self-respecting stunt journalist, to find out for myself, first hand (first paw? sorry), to see what these things are really like, from a dog’s perspective. That’s why I locked myself in a Dog Parker.
First off, let me get a couple of things out of the way: Obviously I don’t recommend that anyone else lock themselves in a Dog Parker, that would be unsafe and potentially very funny. And if Dog Parker, the company, is reading this, and they don’t like that I locked myself in one, well, ha ha, it’s all a funny joke, don’t be ridiculous.
ANYWAY, so I locked myself in a dog parker.
Now, I’m not a dog owner per se, but I am friends with at least two dogs and, prior to this highly scientific experiment, I had my suspicions that Dog Parkers might be a terrible idea. In fact, I have often wondered how many people work for a company that make a product which I have never actually seen anyone using and which every dog owner I’ve asked thinks is dumb. Their concerns and mine being that locking a dog in an enclosed, unfamiliar space that smells like other dogs and leaving them alone would make that dog freak out.
But, rather than continue to judge from a distance, I decided to see for myself. With the help of a friend to make sure I didn’t die, I put Dog Parkers to the test. Right away I was impressed by the company’s safety precaution (turns out, they don’t want dogs to die in there). To use one of these things, you have to register on the Dog Parker app, fill out some basic information about you and your dog (weight, vet info, emergency contact) and sign up for a membership ($25/year but there are tons of promo codes out there to knock much or all of that off). Then the app brings up a map of dog houses in the area (all in Brooklyn for now) and you reserve one and then, when you’re close enough, start your session. While your dog is in there you can watch a video of them and check on the temperature inside the dog house.
So my friend and I found a spot, filled out the paperwork, watched the red light outside the house turned to green and in I went. Now, as a 6’5 man, I suspected I might run into some technical difficulties, but it was actually shockingly roomy in there. It was also remarkably comfortable and temperate and DID NOT smell like dogs, at least to my puny human nose. Now, did it not smell like dogs because of the built-in fan and auto-sanitizing “UV lights to kill bacteria, viruses, and molds between uses” or because nobody has ever actually put a dog in there before? Who can say.
This particular dog house had a promo code on the outside for 10 free minutes so I decided that was an appropriate length for the experiment. There is, of course, no obvious way to open the door from the inside and it won’t open back up for anyone but the dog owner, so comfortable as it was, I still felt an intense wave of claustrophobic terror as the clear door closed in my face and as my friend moved to sit on an adjacent bench. I had my phone with me just in case and my friend had the app loaded on hers, but I still couldn’t help but feel like maybe there’s a reason more people don’t lock themselves in dog houses and maybe I’d be stuck in there forever. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is how a dog would feel in this moment and if that dog might start barking uncontrollably. But, then, maybe that’s just how dogs feel all the time, whenever their owner leaves them anywhere, even at home.
As I lay, cramped into the structure, I began to feel immensely guilty for dogs as a whole. They’re trapped places all the time! They don’t even have phones to call for help and if they did they still wouldn’t have thumbs and even if they did have thumbs would they even be able to understand tactile screens? Phones don’t have buttons anymore! I was one with the dogs now. Their struggle was my struggle.
Soon I moved from fear to the other emotions that must haunt dogs: Boredom. As it turns out, once you calm down, it’s very boring to be locked in a dog house, even for ten minutes. Sure, there’s the street to look at, maybe an odd glance to which your friend explains, “it’s for an article,” but overall 10 minutes is a long time to sit without stimulation in 2017. I began to understand why dogs get so worked up when they see a car and why they’re so tired all the time: It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s their tiny brains filling with ennui!
Eventually, I saw my friend return to the dog house door and our time was up. She took out her phone to end the session and that’s when the unthinkable happened: The door would not open. My friend pushed her phone closer to controls on the side of the door and it still wouldn’t go. I became terrified that I may actually be trapped in there forever or, worse, we would have to call the company for help and explain that we locked an adult human inside one of their dog houses. If I were a dog, this is when I would howl. I would howl and howl and howl as I saw my only companion just out of reach, struggling with the door. I took a deep breath of UV-sanitized air and eventually my friend reloaded the app and successfully opened the door, there had just been some brief error connecting from my account to the dog house.
As I crawled out I felt a wave of intense joy at me and my friend’s reunion and I understood why dogs get so excited about seeing their owner. That person means safety, that person means that no, dog, you won’t be locked in this house forever and left alone to die, you will be fed and walked again.
I left the Dog Parker a little cramped and emotionally shaken from the door snafu, but no worse for wear and, above all else, feeling more connected to canine-kind than ever before.
All in all, I would say the Dog Parker is safe, clean and only a little bit like a dog prison. It’s nicer than you might expect in there, it’s free or cheap and your dog will be safe. BUT, they might also be totally terrified and the glitchiness of the app feels like a major potential flaw. Mostly, though, this experience made me realize how stressful it must be to be a dog, that being tied up outside a grocery store and left alone must be a nightmare and that even sitting at home all day must fill you with anxiety.
Lastly, to any dogs reading, let me just say: bark bark bark, bark bark. Bark bark. Bark.
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