If you’ve ever seen a dog chase a drone, or even your vacuum cleaner, you know the joy and terror that electronics can elicit in our canine friends. But, as with all things, our tech-centric sensibilities are increasingly being adapted to meet the needs of our pets, whether they need it or not. Smart toys are one of the niche markets that have subsequently popped up, taking traditional dog toys and bringing them up-market with extra settings, intuitive play modes, and other gadgetry that will appeal to the pet owner if not the pet itself.
Cheerble’s Wicked Ball is one the more practical items on the market, but I found myself wondering, “Do dogs really need a smart ball? Isn’t a ball enough?” The Wicked Ball promises to captivate your dog’s prey drive and stimulate their mind.
About the size of a tennis ball, the Wicked Ball comes in a variety of casings and colors, including blue, green, yellow and one covered with faux wool that is intended for cats. The Cylcone model, which I tested, is said to be extra durable, but like the Wicked Bone, the Wicked Ball is definitely not meant to be chewed by dogs or humans. The setup is easy: when you unscrew the ball, you’ll find a square core that includes a single on/off button. There are three modes you can choose from by pressing the same button: gentle, normal or active. The flashing colored light lets you know which mode is activated (green for gentle, blue for normal and pink for active), and the core is USB chargeable and holds the charge for up to eight hours.
Inside the Wicked Ball
Credit: Ken Foster
What does the ball do?
It flashes its light, it rolls through the room on its own, spins and occasionally “hops” to get attention. If you have a hyper dog who doesn’t leave you alone at home, this is the perfect solution. Set the ball down and let your dog try to figure it out. If the ball “feels” ignored, it will try to get some attention, just like your dog does with you. But it is NOT a chew toy, which may be a problem for some doggies.
My own dogs are old Luddites: eight former street dogs from New Orleans who, like many former New Orleanians, have seen wilder days. My dogs range in age from 10 to 14 years, except for Buster, a six-year old pit bull with kidney issues and a missing leg, so I suspected that they wouldn’t know what to do with a toy that might demand more of them than the other way around. And they did not disappoint—which is to say, they offered no response at all, even when the Wicked Ball (and Bone) tried to nudge them out of a nap. Obviously, not every toy is meant for every dog. To get a range of responses, I enlisted a few neighborhood dogs to see what they thought.
Pearl, a recently adopted female pit bull/Catahoula mix, is ball crazy. She loves balls so much that she immediately took it in her mouth, retreated to her bed and never let go, even as the Wicked Ball tried to blink and bounce and roll its way out her grasp. One of my concerns about toys like this, as the caregiver to a long line of chewing maniacs, is the possibility that a dog will chew through the electronic core. Pearl resisted this, and instead just curled up with her new weird toy safely contained in her mouth. Still, not quite the desired response.
CJ, an eight-month-old labradoodle who runs a local coffee shop, offered yet another unique response. While staff cleaned the shop around him, he stared the Wicked Ball down, cornered it in various spots around the shop, stalked it from around furniture and barked at it the entire time. In fact, he barked so much, the owner of the neighboring shop came to see what was going on. The ball continued rolling around the shop and then coyly waiting for CJ to approach. He stared, barked, and eventually started initiating a sort of play bow in the ball’s direction. It was clear the barking was excitement at this novel object. But would the barking ever stop? On the positive end, after about fifteen minutes, CJ seemed exhausted from trying to figure it all out.
I revisited CJ a few days later and brought the ball back. He seemed to have been waiting for it. Thrilled to see it again, he immediately began engaging with it and this time his barking was reserved for the moments when the ball stopped playing. CJ wanted the ball’s attention. He barked and pounced, playfully nudging the ball with his nose, or mouthing it quickly and jumping away. This was definitely play mode for both of them and after a while it was the ball’s turn to try to win CJ’s attention back when he stepped away. At the back of the store, the ball would roll across the floor and CJ would run back to it again.
One of the advertised features is an Obstacle Avoidance System, which promises to steer clear or rebound from furniture and other inanimate objects, but the ball would occasionally get lost or stuck under a raised piece of furniture. Another of the truly smart features shuts the ball off for rest after 10 minutes—unless your dog taps it, which will reactivate the play cycle.
It may not be every dog’s cup of tea, but the Wicked Ball does seem like a great companion for the right dog: in this case, an eight month old with some energy and mental power to burn off. But the ball is not a babysitter, so I wouldn’t leave a dog completely alone with it for long.
It is perfect though, for working alongside your dog at the office or at home, when you can offer some stimulation via this toy while still keeping an eye on things.