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How dogs can tell us about their owner's health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Dog and Owner

Researchers are looking to dogs to give insight into their owner's health and well-being. Experts at Newcastle University, UK, are using dog sensors to monitor canine behavior in a way that can give an early warning sign that their owner is unable to cope or having health problems.

The scientists explain monitoring dogs at home and on the move can reveal a lot of information about an owner's health. For instance, is the dog barking, digging, or sitting a lot?

Dr Cas Ladha, PhD student Nils Hammerla and undergraduate Emma Hughes first mapped dogs' normal behavior as a baseline so they could detect any changes, such as increased restlessness or inactivity among the canines.

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For their investigation the scientists developed a high-tech dog collar that is waterproof and has an accelerometer to allow for data collection throughout the day.

“In order to set the benchmark we needed to determine which movements correlated to particular behaviours, so in the initial studies, as well as the collars, we also set up cameras to record their behaviour," Ladha explained in media release.

Using the two tools, the researchers identified 17 dog activities that included barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering and sniffing.

One of the challenges the study authors said was to match distinct behaviors of different breeds that depended on whether the collar was being worn by a large square shouldered dog or a small breed like the Chihuahua.

"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."

Owner’s dogs could be a valuable tool that can alert us to failing health or other coping problems among elders, the study suggests.