Dogs are often called man’s best friends. Now, dogs may also become your best way to ensure older family members are well and thriving while living alone, thanks to a recent study at Newcastle University in the UK.
University researchers developed a method to track normal canine behavior to establish standards for what happy and healthy dogs do when receiving normal care.
The team created a water-proof dog collar to record movement patterns. They also set up observation cameras so they could correlate the collar sensor data with what the dog was actually doing at the time.
The team used this data to set benchmarks for 17 normal behaviors including barking, sitting, digging, shivering, sniffing, drinking and laying down. The team mapped these behaviors on a variety of dog breeds to ensure accurate readings, whether the collar was worn by a bulldog or Chihuahua.
The goal of the study was to develop a way to monitor a dog’s behavior in its natural setting without obtrusive cameras that would infringe on the privacy of the dog’s owners. The team believes variations from a dog’s normal patterns are good indicators of changes such as illness or boredom.
These kinds of changes may be indicative of changes in the behavior of the dog’s owners, such as not feeding the dog on a regular schedule, fewer walks, or other problems that may signal that the owner is struggling to cope.
The study was led by Dr. Cas Ladha, PhD, of Newcastle University’s Culture Lab. Ladha said, “A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems that can help older people to live independently for longer.”
Ladha’s team presented their findings at the 2013 UbiComp conference in Zurich. Ladha explained that their goal is to use this ability to track the health and behavior of the dog to create an early-warning system. Families can then use this system to help ensure their elderly family member is not experiencing difficulties living alone.
Ladha said, “But developing a system that reassures family and carers that an older relative is well without intruding on that individual's privacy is difficult.