Tag Archives: harness

Hand-me-down

Today I took Izzy swimming.  For only her third time, I think she did very well:

Looking at Izzy’s flotation vest, the Float Doggy made by D-Fa, you’d think I bought it for her, but in fact it’s a hand-me-down – and a testament to the quality of the item.

The D-Fa vest was purchased by a client for Ollie, who within the span of days became a quadriplegic in 2010.  Swimming was part of his long-term care program (I won’t say rehab, since he never re-gained the use of his legs and on autopsy it was found that he had a brain tumor).

Ollie in chair.jpg

When Ollie died in September 2011, Ollie’s owner passed his life vest onto me for Daisy.  By then, Daisy was also swimming at the Dog Swim Spa on a fortnightly basis.

Daisy-in-her-D-Fa

Daisy wearing her Float Doggy flotation vest

Daisy passed away in July 2014 and so that vest saw a lot of use from September 2011 to July 2014.

And it came out of storage this year to support Izzy.

I wash out the vest after each use with liquid laundry detergent and cold water; chlorine from the pool can damage fibers of most garments.

Otherwise, that’s all I’ve done to maintain it.

I’d say that’s pretty well made!

Izzy in her D-Fa

Izzy wearing the same Float Doggy, 22 November 2017

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Will computers replace dog trainers?

North Carolina State University researchers have developed and used a customized suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog autonomously (without human involvement), with the computer effectively responding to the dog based on the dog’s body language.

“Our approach can be used to train dogs efficiently and effectively,” says David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “We use sensors in custom dog harnesses to monitor a dog’s posture, and the computer reinforces the correct behavior quickly and with near-perfect consistency.”

Dog training with computers

“Because the technology integrates fundamental principles of animal learning into a computational system, we are confident it can be applied to a wide range of canine behaviors,” says Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-author of the paper. “For example, it could be used to more quickly train service dogs. Ultimately, we think the technology will be used in conjunction with human-directed training.”

The dog harness fits comfortably onto the dog and is equipped with a variety of technologies that can monitor the dog’s posture and body language. Each harness also incorporates a computer the size of a deck of cards that transmits the sensor data wirelessly.

For the current study, the researchers wrote an algorithm that triggered a beeping sound and the release of dog treats from a nearby dispenser whenever the dog’s harness sensors detected that the dog went from standing to sitting.

The researchers had to ensure that the reinforcement was given shortly after the desired posture was exhibited, and also ensure that rewards were only given for the correct posture. This required a trade-off. If the algorithm ran long enough to ensure the correct posture with 100 percent certainty, the reinforcement was given too late to be effective for training purposes. But if the reinforcement was given immediately, there was a high rate of rewarding the wrong posture.

To address this, the researchers worked with 16 volunteers and their dogs to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The researchers then compared the algorithm’s timing and accuracy to that of an expert human trainer.

The algorithm was highly accurate, rewarding the appropriate behavior 96 percent of the time. But the human trainer was better – with a 100 percent accuracy rate.

However, while the average response time was about the same for both algorithm and trainer, there was a lot of variation in the time of response from the trainer. The algorithm was incredibly consistent.

“That variation matters, because consistency is fundamentally important for all animal training,” Roberts says.

“This study was a proof of concept, and demonstrates that this approach works,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include teaching dogs to perform specific behaviors on cue, and integrating computer-assisted training and human-directed training for use in various service dog applications.”

“In the long term, we’re interested in using this approach to animal-computer interaction to allow dogs to ‘use’ computers,” Roberts says. “For example, allowing an explosive detection dog to safely and clearly mark when it detects components of a bomb, or allowing diabetic alert dogs to use their physical posture and behaviors to call for help.”

Source:  North Caroline State University media release

A device to help monitor guide dog health

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a device that allows people who are blind to monitor their guide dogs, in order to keep tabs on the health and well-being of their canine companions.

Guide dog and handler

Sean Mealin and Simba, using a traditional guide dog harness and handle. Photo credit: NC State University

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” says David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the new technology. “This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public.

To address this need, the researchers have developed a suite of technologies that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and share the information with the dog’s handler.

“Our goal is to let guide dog handlers know when their dogs are stressed or anxious,” says Sean Mealin, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. “This is important because it is widely believed that stress is a significant contributing factor to early retirement of guide dogs and other service animals. The technology may also be able to help handlers detect other health problems, such as symptoms of heat exhaustion.”

The issue is particularly important to Mealin, who is blind and works with his own guide dog, Simba.

The research team had previously developed monitoring technologies that are incorporated into a lightweight harness that can be worn by rescue or service dogs. The trick was to find a way to share that monitoring data with users who are blind – and to do so in a way that allows those users to act on the information.

So, the researchers developed a specialized handle that attaches to a guide dog’s harness.  The handle is equipped with two vibrating motors.

High tech dog harness

This guide-dog harness handle contains electronics that allow users to monitor the breathing and heart rate of their dogs. Photo credit: David Roberts

One motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate. When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.

The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s pinky finger, and vibrates in synch with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.

“We’re refreshing the design and plan to do additional testing with guide-dog handlers,” Roberts says. “Our ultimate goal is to provide technology that can help both guide dogs and their people. That won’t be in the immediate future, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get there.”

Source:  NC State University media release

Harness fit in guide dogs

A research team at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) have studied the forces that guide dogs are exposed to during their work to ascertain what types of harness are most suitable.

Guide dogs walk under constant tension. A well-fitting harness is extremely important for the animals (Photo: Michael Bernkopf/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Guide dogs walk under constant tension. A well-fitting harness is extremely important for the animals (Photo: Michael Bernkopf/Vetmeduni Vienna)

A proper harness that enables good communication between the blind person and the dog is an important factor to support the dog’s well-being, while a poorly fitting harness may result in health problems and impaired communication between dog and owner.

The team members, movement analysts and physiotherapists, examined the distribution of pressure in working guide dogs by placing pressure sensors beneath their harnesses. Eight guide dogs were filmed with a trainer while climbing steps, avoiding obstacles, turning left and right and walking straight ahead. To visualize the movements, the animals, the trainers and the harnesses were equipped with reflective markers. The positions of the markers were recorded by a total of ten cameras.

The results showed that the bottom right of the animals’ chests is particularly stressed. As Barbara Bockstahler explains, “Guide dogs walk under constant tension. They are usually on their owners’ right and in front of them.” The scientists found that the pressure on the right side of a dog’s chest may equate to up to 10 per cent of the animal’s weight. In contrast, the dog’s back experiences far less pressure. “It is important for guide dogs to exercise regularly without a harness to compensate for the lopsided pressure they experience in their work”, says Bockstahler.

Very rigid harnesses enable quick and finely tuned communication between dogs and owners but cause stress to the animals. The more stiffly the harness is anchored to the handle, the more pressure the animal experiences. The most comfortable harness relies on a hook-and-loop connection, which provides the least pressure on the dog, although for long-haired dogs a plastic clip version is favourable.

The researchers want to study guide dogs for a longer period of time to find out whether any of the harnesses are associated with long-term problems in the animals.   They require partners and sponsors for this work.

The results of this study have been published in the Veterinary Journal.

Source:  Vetmeduni Vienna press release