A dog’s secret life and how it can help elderly owners

Experts at Newcastle University are using movement sensors to track normal dog behaviour while the animals are active outside the home and when they are home alone.

Dog photo for research blog

The sensors show not only when the dog is on the move, but also how much he is barking, sitting, digging and other key canine behaviours.

By mapping the normal behaviour of a healthy, happy dog, Dr Cas Ladha and students Nils Hammerla and Emma Hughes were able to set a benchmark against which the animals could be remotely monitored.  This allowed for any changes in behaviour which might be an indication of illness or boredom to be quickly spotted.

Presenting their findings at the 2013 UbiComp conference in Zurich, project lead Ladha, says the next step is to use the dog’s health and behaviour as an early warning system that an elderly owner may be struggling to cope.

“A dog’s physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their wellbeing is likely reflect that of their owner and any changes such as the dog being walked less often, perhaps not being fed regularly, or simply demonstrating ‘unhappy’ behaviour could be an early indicator for families that an older relative needs help.” says Hammerla.

The team created a hi-tech, waterproof dog collar complete with accelerometer and collected data for a wide range of dog breeds.

Hammerla adds: “This is the first system of its kind which allows us to remotely monitor a dog’s behaviour in its natural setting” –  ultimately classifying 17 activities such as barking and chewing.

“But beyond this it also presents us with a real opportunity to use man’s best friend as a discreet health barometer.  It’s already well known that pets are good for our health and this new technology means dogs are supporting their older owners to live independently in even more ways than they already do.”

Source:  Newcastle University media statement

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