Changes in dog’s behaviour may reveal an owner’s illness

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Monitoring a dog’s mood could provide vital information into the wellbeing of its owner. 
Experts at Newcastle University are using movement sensors to track normal dog behaviour while the animals are both home alone and out-and-about.  This system provides an insight into the secret life of man’s best friend, 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, the team of researchers headed up by Dr Cas Ladha, 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.  It is the data from this system that could be used as an early warning sign that an eldery owner is struggling to cope or their health may be at risk.

So how did this new system come about?

According to Ladha: “A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems for older people to ensure healthier aging.  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.”

As part of this research the team classified 17 dog activities including: barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering and sniffing.  They then assessed the system against different breeds of dog.  This meant the team could map distinct behaviours that correlated no matter what breed of dog was wearing the collar.

Co-researcher on this project was Nils Hammerla, he says: “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.  Not only will the new system allow people to monitor canine behaviour in its natural setting, it can also be used as a discreet health barometer for dog owners.”

With evidence showing how great our four-legged friends are at detecting subtle changes in our health and emotional state from allergens, cancers and stress, it seems that science has finally caught up with nature.

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