When Ken Solinsky bought a second home in Florida, his golden retriever Kai quickly decided to check out his new pool. But the water didn’t agree with her: Kai developed irritating hot spots.
So Solinsky set up a virtual fence to keep her high and dry — an electronic barrier linked to a high-tech collar that emitted two harmless but attention-grabbing warning tones any time she got close to the pool. The collar can also deliver a mild static shock, but Solinsky said he opted not to use that feature.
The technology behind the so-called invisible fence — and electronic collars — isn’t new, but Solinsky says his startup, OnPoint Systems, is using it in a unique way. Unlike most invisible fences, which have to be installed in fixed positions — such as on the perimeter of a yard — the Bedford, N.H., company’s SpotOn device is built into a dog’s collar. That makes it portable. Wherever the dog goes, so does the barrier. OnPoint says it can cover an unlimited area, thanks to satellite technology.
The company says the audio warning becomes “harsher” as a dog gets closer to the boundary. If that doesn’t stop the pooch, the collar can deliver a shock that OnPoint likens to “shuffling your feet on a carpet and touching a doorknob.”
Solinsky said he got the idea for SpotOn after a landscaper asked him whether it would be possible to develop a virtual fence free of clunky hardware or buried wires.
He joined with Scott Sterling and Sung Vivathana to found OnPoint Systems in 2015. The trio had worked together previously at Insight Technology, a company that developed night-vision goggles and similar equipment for clients like the US military.
The SpotOn collar, which is the firm’s first product and is available through its online store, relies on three satellite systems to map and monitor a dog’s location. It’s connected to an app the owner can use to track the pet.
To set up a fence, you turn the collar on, sync it with the app, and walk along the perimeter of the area you want to enclose. SpotOn translates your path into a border.
The collar and app can store fences in up to 10 locations, which is convenient for people who regularly take their pets to various places. The owner also has the option of setting the device to cover a specific range — between 20 and 1,000 meters — instead of a fixed boundary.
Such on-the-go tech doesn’t come cheap — at $1,495, the collar is more expensive than in-ground virtual fence systems advertised on Amazon that cost $200 to $400, plus several hundred dollars in installation fees.
And some owners who have trained their dog for obedience might not see the need for such high-tech options in the first place.
“A dog isn’t trained if you need a tool,” said Larry Krohn, a trainer who works out of Kentucky and Tennessee. Krohn has written a book called “Everything You Need to Know About E Collar Training,” which is focused on training collars that deliver static shocks to correct unwanted behaviors.
But Solinsky said customers will pay for convenience and versatility.
“We see with this collar the ability to take your dog with you . . . wherever you go,” he said.
Sterling said the collar can serve as a backup against unexpected behavior by an otherwise well-behaved pet.
“If a dog is motivated enough, whether it’s [by] a squirrel or another dog, it can run away,” he said.
The collar also can detect when a dog that has breached the invisible barrier is returning. In that instance, the device does not generate a warning tone or static jolt.
The seven-employee company also offers training programs to get dogs used to the collar, developed by professional trainer Nicole Skeehan. SpotOn, she said, focuses more on positive reinforcement than traditional virtual fences.
“Overall, positive reinforcement hands-down has better results,” Skeehan said.
The Humane Society of America’s website advises against using negative stimulus whenever possible. It says electronic collars can deliver a sensation that ranges from “mild tickling” to a “painful shock.”
While SpotOn is still new, its founders see potential to carve out a niche in the multibillion-dollar pet industry.
“Every time we spoke to somebody and let them know what this product did,” Vivathana said, “people . . . were super excited. Just like, ‘Wow, why hasn’t anybody done this before?’ ”Max Reyes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MaxJReyes.