British scientists say they're using movement sensors to track dog behavior that could be used as an early warning sign an older owner is struggling to cope.
Cas Ladha, Ph.D. student Nils Hammerla and undergraduate Emma Hughes of Newcastle University said 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 behaviors.
The researchers said they were able to set a benchmark against which the happy and healthy animals could be remotely monitored. This allowed for any changes in behavior that might be an indication of illness or boredom to be quickly spotted.
Ladha said the next step is to use the dog's health and behavior as an early warning system that an elderly owner may be struggling to cope.
"A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems that can help older people to live independently for longer," Ladha said in a statement. "But developing a system that reassures family that an older relative is well without intruding on that individual's privacy is difficult. This is just the first step but the idea behind this research is that it would allow us to discretely support people without the need for cameras."
Hammerla said a dog's physical and emotional dependence on their owner means their well being is likely to 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" behavior could be an early indicator for families that an older relative needs help.
The team created a high-tech, waterproof dog collar complete with accelerometer and collected data for a wide range of dog breeds.
"In order to set the benchmark we needed to determine which movements correlated to particular behaviors, so in the initial studies, as well as the collars, we also set up cameras to record their behavior," Ladha said.
Analyzing the two data sets, the Newcastle team were able to classify 17 distinct dog activities such as barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering and sniffing.
"This is the first system of its kind which allows us to remotely monitor a dog's behavior in its natural setting," Hammerla said. "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."
The findings were presented at the UbiComp conference in Zurich, Switzerland.
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