People who don’t own a pet probably don’t know this, but there is a constant battle of wills happening each day in a home that has a dog living in it. This battle is one fraught with danger and peril, and there can ever only be one victor. It is the battle between a dog demanding attention from its human, and a human trying to go five seconds without a furry little barkbox always underfoot. It’s like having a toddler in your house, however the toddler never gets any older and only becomes more demanding of your attention when it ages. It is also a battle that most humans regularly lose, because being cute is a dog’s most powerful, and most regularly deployed, weapon.
The fact is, there is a lot more to owning a dog than most people think. You can’t be a good dog owner just by putting some food in a bowl and occasionally scratching their heads, it is a pretty significant investment of time and energy. But that doesn’t mean that a dog’s constant need for attention can’t occasionally be outsourced by technology. While certainly technology will never replace a scratch on the head or a cheerful ‘good boy,’ there are always things that a clever dog owner can do to catch themselves a break now and then.
Thingiverse user and maker JonPaul Laskis had a problem with his dog. After eating his food, the dog was accustomed to getting a treat from Laskis that would help keep his teeth healthy. But in typical dog fashion, the treat was expected to be dispensed on his schedule, not Laskis’, which usually led to multiple interrupted meals between him and his wife. So he decided to create a machine that would automatically dispense dogs treats that his impatient pup could access simply by pressing a button with his paw. It was a solution that suited both parties perfectly–Laskis found himself able to enjoy his meal when it was still warm, while his dog got his teeth-cleaning treat exactly when he wanted it.
“The machine works like so: First you load all the tubes with 4 treat halves. Once fully loaded, the machine will last for 48 days (dispensing 2 treats a day). A treat will be dispensed based on the last time one was dispensed. It’ll only allow 1 treat every 8 hrs (this value can be set to whatever) from the previous dispensed treat time. In order to turn on the machine the dog must push the paw lever down momentarily. Once the machine is on, it checks the clock to see if it’s time for another treat to be dispensed,” Laskis told me via email.
Laskis designed his Automatic Dog Treat Feeder in SolidWorks and then 3D printed all of the plastic parts on his Ultimaker 2 in bright green PLA. The machine also has several non-3D printed components including twelve six-inch-long clear acrylic tubes and a sheet metal base that he had laser cut. There are also some rather complicated electronic parts that need to be programmed with Arduino. Laskis readily admits that his current design, this is his second attempt, is over-engineered and he is planning on revisiting the design to include more 3D printable parts.
“I didn’t want the machine plugged into the wall (as there is no outlet in my pantry). I’d seen several ‘Useless Machines’ over the years and was inspired to add something like this to the machine to turn it off to conserve battery power while not being used. Initially I thought I wanted the machine to mechanically turn itself off but I didn’t feel like adding more unneeded mechanical components to an already bloated project. So after a bit of scouring the web for electrical alternatives I found the power module from Pololu. It proved to be a quick simple solution to the problem, as all I needed to do is buy a momentary switch, solder a few wires and add a line of code and BOOM! I was done!” continued Laskis.
The entire treat dispenser took Laskis about four months to design and fabricate, spending about one to two hours a day on the project. However once the parts were all completed, the device only took about an hour to assemble and get working. This was his first time working with Arduino so he does admit that he spent a few late nights getting it to run properly, but now that everything is complete Laskis says that the machine runs pretty smoothly. But in true mechanical engineer fashion (it’s his day job) Laskis is not content with the device as it stands now and will be simplifying the dog treat gate mechanism, eliminating the metal base and clear acrylic tubing and making the design entirely 3D printable so anyone can make their own.
But for now, both Laskis and his hungry pup are pretty happy with how the device works and the resulting interruption-free meals. You can follow Laskis’ progress over on his Thingiverse profile, and his personal site. He does note that the project isn’t meant for beginners. And make sure that you let us know what you think of this project over on our 3D Printed Automated Dog Treat Feeder forum at 3DPB.com.