For many dog owners, incessant barking is the bane of their existence. Some resort to using “shock collars” that deliver a jolt when their animal barks. The brainchild of a School of Veterinary Medicinestudent, however, may one day help pet lovers quiet their pets using positive reinforcement in the form of food rewards.
The device, called the “Hush-Puppy,” is the creation of Lindsay Gallagher, who is in her third year at Penn Vet. Her idea has been ushered into development by the Veterinary Innovation Challenge, a business plan competition that was designed by another Penn Vet student, fourth-year Nikhil Joshi. The international contest, held for the first time this year at Penn, encouraged veterinary students to “think entrepreneurially” about the challenges faced by their profession.
“I think that there’s a lot that veterinarians can offer in terms of livestock, research, medicine, that other people don’t have the expertise in,” says Joshi. “I wanted to encourage people to think more broadly about how they can add value to the veterinary industry beyond clinical practice.”
Joshi’s concept of a business plan competition for vet students helped him win the 2013 Penn Vet Inspiration Award, presented to students with the most potential to push forward the frontiers of the profession. He leveraged his prize money to raise additional funds and support and unveiled the challenge in 2014.
Joshi and the contest judges narrowed the application pool of 32 down to eight finalists, “based on feasibility, the level of innovation in the market, and the overall professionalism of the proposal.”
This past summer, finalists were paired with mentors and designed a five-page business plan. In September, they gave 15-minute presentations, followed by a question-and-answer period with judges.
First and second prizes went to students from University of California-Davis and the University of Missouri, respectively. But Penn represented with Gallagher’s Hush-Puppy earning third-place honors and a $2,500 prize.
Designed in collaboration with her brother Jason Gallagher, a senior at Johns Hopkins University studying electrical and computer engineering, the Hush-Puppy uses a standard automatic feeder linked to a bark-detecting collar. Animals are rewarded with food after they are quiet for a set period of time, which automatically adjusts as the dogs become better trained.
Gallagher says the experience of preparing for the Veterinary Innovation Challenge, including analyzing finances, marketing, and pitching a business plan, will help her not only in bringing the Hush-Puppy and other devices to the market, but also in a hoped-for career as a veterinary behaviorist and hospital owner.
“They say if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll still end up among the stars,” she says. “I think if I shoot big with my hospital and with this company and with behavior, I’ll end up with something awesome.”