ROCHESTER, NY – Some animal shelters, like Lollypop Farm, had reported an increase in the number of pets being brought to the shelter with the relaxation of pandemic restrictions. But two former Rochester Institute of Technology students have developed a new app in hopes of reversing that trend.
Chubby enjoys going out, but his owner, Ting Zhu, says he’s easily distracted.
âWhen he was very young, his owner didn’t take him out regularly every day,â Zhu said. “So he just kept Chubby in his house, which makes Chubby too sensitive to ever go out.”
She and her roommate, Howard Shyng, wanted Chubby to be more relaxed when he was going out. So, as RIT students in 2019, the two created a new app and a new company called Sniffy Laboratories.
The app employs professional dog trainers who provide step-by-step instructions for everyone to train their own dog at their own pace.
Shyng points out that around three million dogs are sent to the shelter each year with behavioral issues.
âA lot of owners know their dogs need to be trained, but they just don’t have the time to do it,â Shyng said. âAnd going outside of class, the group’s settings don’t match their needs. So we wondered if there could be anything to help, to do some dog training at home, and that’s how we shaped this idea.
Zhu says Chubby has improved a lot since adopting him two years ago with Sniffy’s help.
âI bring treats with me on the walk, not every day, but sometimes I take them with me,â Zhu said. âI’m strengthening Chubby while he is doing great. And every time he walks great, I’ll make him a treat. So that way, Chubby knows that this behavior makes me happy. So you keep strengthening the process and your dog will learn.
It also helped Maureen McGrath, who owns three pugs and has been using Sniffy for two years.
She told Shyng and Zhu that she was having a hard time walking her dogs, until she took advantage of the app’s leash training.
âIt was stressful for me,â McGrath said. “And I probably passed that stress on to the dogs because I would yell at them, shoot them and sometimes get angry.” And now I just pull them over to the side of the road with their leashes and harnesses and they just sit there and wait. While we are walking, they do not pull on the leash. That’s wonderful.”
Shyng and Zhu are happy that they can help dog owners like McGrath and when they play with Chubby outside they think about how they can do more.
That’s why they’re launching a Kickstarter campaign to add more robust training content, nutrition and healthcare advice, and more personalization to meet individual needs.
Shyng thinks it could help reduce the spike in dogs being sent to local animal shelters.
âI think people are bringing dogs home because of the loneliness during the pandemic,â Shyng said. âAnd after it ended, people started bringing these animals because they hadn’t established a strong bond with their dog. So with our training style and training philosophy, we not only help owners teach their dogs basic behavioral manners, we help them build a solid that can last forever.