Dog Behavior Senior Health
October 7, 2013

Dogs Behavior Could Be Used To Monitor Health Of The Elderly

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

One way to determine whether or not someone is healthy could be to watch that person's dog, according to experts at Newcastle University. Researchers say that monitoring a dog's behavior could be used as an early warning sign that an elderly owner may have deteriorating health. The team used movement sensors to provide unique insight into the secret life of man's best friend.

The team tracked normal dog behavior while the animals were at home alone, as well as out-and-about. The sensors not only helped show when the dog was on the move, but also how much it was barking, sitting, digging and other behaviors. The sensor was in the form of a waterproof dog collar equipped with an accelerometer.

The team mapped the normal behavior of a healthy, happy dog to use as a benchmark against which animals could be remotely monitored. This allowed the team to spot any changes in behavior that could be an indication of illness or boredom.

"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," said Dr. Cas Ladha of Newcastle University's Culture Lab.

The team analyzed the data sets and classified 17 distinct dog activities, then assessed the system against different dog breeds.

"This had to work for all dogs," explains Ladha, "so the challenge was to map distinct behaviours that correlated whether the collar was being worn by a square-shouldered bulldog or a tiny chiwawa."

Nils Hammerla, a PhD student and behavior imaging expert, said this research works because humans and dogs have been living together for thousands of years, leading to strong, mutual emotional and social bonds.

"A dog's physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that 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," Hammerla said.

Nils said their system allowed them to remotely monitor a dog's behavior in its natural setting. It also allowed the team to create an opportunity to use a dog 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," Hammerla said.