03/17/2014 11:28 am ET Updated May 17, 2014

Shape up with Your Pup: Exercise Technology Goes to the Dogs

I've talked before about our pets' sometimes precarious relationship with technology, but I've recently discovered some pretty neat devices that can actually help make our furry friends healthier (provided they don't eat them!). Move over smartphones -- smart collars are the latest and greatest new gadget to come from the pet world.

What's a smart collar? Just like the tools that help dieters and athletes track their activities and fitness level (like the Fitbit), these collars help pet parents monitor their dog's movements - all through an app on their iPhone.

Once you enter your dog's breed and weight, the collar-mounted activity monitor collects data about his activity and resting periods and measures the intensity of his movement. Unlike the human version of these gadgets, which tracks steps or calories, the movement-sensing accelerometers on smart collars measure time spent active, as well as monitor vital signs like heart rate and respiratory rate. Waterproof and shockproof, with a battery life of about 10 days, smart collars cost about $100-$300.

At that price, you may be wondering what smart collars really do to help make your pet healthy. Well for one, it is a nice tool to help you work with your vet to set fitness goals for your dog based on his or her individual needs -- whether that means shedding a few pounds or stepping up their cardiovascular conditioning. But the real benefit comes from the information that could help you spot potential health problems before they become something serious.

You may walk your dog regularly, but if his activity level while you're not home is decreasing, it could spell trouble. Changes in normal activity can indicate early signs of common conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia, heart and lung problems and anxiety. Smart collars can also alert you to restlessness during a sleep cycle, which could be caused by itching and scratching related to allergies or other skin conditions.

Some signs and symptoms of sickness are so subtle that they are easily missed during day-to-day life. While smart collars are certainly no substitute for regular screenings at your vet, they can help paint a broad enough picture of your pet's health to alert you to problems early enough to effectively treat them.

I believe that anything that can help us take better care of our pets is good thing, and I am happy to see pet health taking priority in the public consciousness. As we all strive to become stronger, fitter people -- and use gadgets to help us get there -- it makes sense that our fitness technology would eventually inspire similar products for pets.

But can fitness monitors really change behavior in people and pets? Doctors (and veterinarians) are hoping the answer is yes, and that simply being more aware of how active or sedentary a person or pet is on a typical day can help inspire more movement. As for me, I'm happy to clip on a tracker and hit the road with my dogs to help us all live an active, healthy life. If you need a little motivation to get moving, trying one of these devices could help jump start your -- and your four-legged love's -- journey toward total health!