Shaggy dog story of the day comes from the Mail: “Dog lovers are turning to the free online video call service Skype to communicate with their pet while they are out at work”.
The article suggests that the idea is taking off in the US – dog owners set up a Skype account in their pet’s name and change Skype settings to answer the call automatically (with video) whenever they call home.
Personally I hope that the idea of actually talking to your dog online doesn’t take off – as a doggie expert says “Dogs make sense of their world through smell so if they can hear you but not smell you it might confuse them”.
And if they get confused they’re more likely to trash the computer/tablet you had to leave switched on to watch them play… However, if you just want to check up on your pet and see how they’re doing whilst you’re out, using Skype is a possible free solution.
Configure Skype For Automatic Answering – The Mail article doesn’t actually tell you how to change Skype settings to answer calls automatically when you call home but it is easy to do:
1. Create a new Skype account for your pet/home (for you to call from work/holiday)
2. Open Skype and log into the new account
3. From the menu bar choose ‘Tools’ then ‘Options’ to open Skype Options
4. Click the ‘Calls’ tab then ‘Call Settings’ tab to set up call options
5. Click the ‘Show Advanced Options’ button
6. Click to tick ‘Answer Incoming Calls Automatically’
7. Click to tick ‘Start my video automatically when I am in a call’ to watch via a webcam as shown below:
8. Click the ‘Save’ button to finish
Now, if you call that Skype account it should automatically answer the call and turn on the webcam so you can see your pet – if it is within view of the webcam.
Whilst it is technically possible to do this, there may be more disadvantages than advantages in using Skype for this purpose:
Free – assuming you have a computer/tablet with a webcam.
Easy to set up.
You need to leave the computer/tablet turned on with Skype running – obvious impacts on power usage and potentially on lifespan.
You may need to change power settings to ensure the device does not switch off or hibernate when not used for a while.
The device is susceptible to damage from a pet trying to get close to (or find) your voice coming out of the speakers.
Typical home user webcams have a very limited range – you won’t see your pet unless it is almost sitting at the keyboard – see the above point on damage/slobber!
There are better options to check up on pets in the home whilst you are away.
A wireless IP camera would be my preferred choice as the camera is more designed for this sort of task. It is more powerful and functional – it could also act as a baby monitor or nanny cam too.
Such devices combine a video camera with network connectivity and a web server – they capture images (snapshots) or video and transmit them wirelessly over your home network and on to the internet.
You can usually access the footage from a smartphone or internet enabled laptop/PC/tablet.
IP cameras often include night and day features (e.g. Infra Red LEDs to see at night) which could also be useful to check up on pets/babies/home at night.
Some may offer advanced features like automatic pan/tilt so camera focus moves around the room, the ability to record video for later viewing, motion detection to trigger recording and ability to email you of events.
It is certainly possible to use Skype as a free pet watching service – if your webcam has a decent range to cover a whole room (basic webcams usually don’t).
Whilst an IP camera is more expensive and may require some configuration, most offer extra functions and better picture quality than a standard webcam – and they are more practical as you don’t need to leave your computer switched on.
The ability to see what your pet gets up to in the dark, access the footage from anywhere and be emailed when motion is detected also puts IP security cameras a step above Skype as a way to monitor your home.