The quantified pup: Whistle wants to create the world’s largest database on dog behavior

Whistle is the latest San Francisco startup trying to crack the wearable device market, but it has one key differentiator over the Fitbits (see disclosure), FuelBands and Amiigos out there. You would look awfully silly wearing Whistle’s activity tracking device, since its intended to clip onto your dog’s collar.

Whistle on Wednesday announced it has raised a $6 million Series A round led by DCM Ventures and it debuted its eponymous device. The small metallic puck that clips contains a three-axis access accelerometer that tracks a wide range of canine motion – or lack thereof. The device has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios, which it not only uses to send its data payloads to the internet and your smartphone, but also for proximal location. For instance, Whistle knows your dog is at home if it’s sniffing your house’s Wi-Fi network, and if it’s detecting your smartphone’s Bluetooth signal it knows the you and dog are together.

Whistle quantified dog smartphone appYour dog probably doesn’t care about counting calories and steps, but in the interest of keeping their pups healthy, dog owners certainly do. And that’s why the cornerstone of Whistle’s service doesn’t live in the collar sensor or phone app, but in the cloud, CEO and co-founder Ben Jacobs told me.

Whistle has been working with leading veterinary schools to create a hefty database of dog health information. It tries to determine what a dog’s optimal exercise and sleep levels should be based on breed, weight and age, and then compares them to a dog’s actual activity patterns. Dog owners can access all of that data through a web interface, and track activity on a smartphone app. They can also use the software to send or print out reports for their vets.

“We translate that accelerometer data into info you can use and give you a snapshot of what your dog’s day looked like – walks, playtime and the time spent resting,” Jacobs said.

Whistle, however, isn’t just graphing data and comparing it against a few charts. According to Jacobs, its analyzing millions of individual data points per animal, looking for patterns or “vectors” such as restless sleep or interrupted play that would indicate that something isn’t right in Fido’s world.

“Dogs tend to hide their pain from you,” Jacobs said. “They will act how their owners want them to act. Dogs will run a marathon with their owners until their paws bleed. That’s not an indication of health. That’s an indication of loyalty.”

Whistle’s job is to ferret those patterns out from perceived behavior, he said. What’s more, Whistle plans to aggregate all of its canine data and offer it up to its research partners. Despite the high level of dog ownership in this country, there’s a lot vets don’t know about individual breeds, Jacobs said. Whistle wants to supply them with the country’s largest live case study – giving them real data on how real dogs behave in domestic environment, not just the lab.

Whistle dog collarThough the major value of Whistle comes from its cloud service, the company is taking an Apple(s aapl) approach to the market, making its money off of hardware. It’s selling each Whistle device for $99.95, but will never charge for the data collection and analytics service, Jacobs said. He added Whistle might pursue additional revenue streams through a version of its analytics portal optimized for vets so they can keep track of their patients.

The quantified pet is definitely going to be an interesting space, and it targets a market segment that goes nuts over their pets and has money to spend on them (I can speak from personal experience). According to Whistle, pet owners spend $50 billion annually on food, treats, equipment, medicine, veterinary bills and even massages for their pets. The idea of a Fitbit for your pooch might sound silly to many people, but to dog owners used to fussing over and pampering their pets, Whistle’s wearable doggie tech is by no means a stretch.

We’re starting to see the emergence of all kinds of internet of things devices designed to let our pets “talk” to us and interact with their environments. Whistle, however, is particularly compelling because it doesn’t appear to be building a one-trick application, such as GPS tracking collar or an NFC emergency tag.

According to Jacobs, Whistle is trying to build a platform from which it and partners can launch new hardware and services. Future software updates or versions of its collar could use proximal location to create geo-fences or even allow for remote doggie door entry. We humans can get into our homes with Bluetooth keys. Why not our pets?

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.