Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Dog's mood may show owner needs aid

Monitoring a dog's mood could be used as a warning that an elderly owner is struggling to cope, researchers claim after placing movement sensors on dogs to track behaviour

Monitoring the mood of a pet dog could be used as an early warning sign that an elderly owner is struggling to cope, a new report has claimed.

Researchers placed movement sensors on dogs to track their behaviour and identified 17 distinct activities, including chewing, barking, sitting and digging.

This allowed them to map the normal behaviour of a healthy, happy dog, which means any changes can be monitored and could indicate an issue with their owner.

Nils Hammerla, part of the team from Newcastle University, said: "Humans and dogs have lived together in close proximity for thousands of years, which has led to strong emotional and social mutual bonds.

"A dog's physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well-being is likely to reflect that of their owner.

"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.

"This is the first system of its kind which allows us to remotely monitor a dog's behaviour in its natural setting."

The team of academics, who presented their findings at the 2013 UbiComp conference in Zurich, created a hi-tech, waterproof dog collar for the study.

Dr Cas Ladha, who led the study, said: "A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems that can help older people to live independently for longer.

"But developing a system that reassures family and carers 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."

A range of dogs was used for the study, as the team needed to map distinct behaviours that correlated between different breeds.

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