For Seniors, Dogs Could Become Lifesavers

Cesar constantly reminds us that our dogs reflect our energy, but a new study recently presented at the 2013 UbiComp conference in Zurich, Switzerland, could take that to a whole new level. Soon, dogs may serve to alert first responders and family members when their elderly owners are having health problems — simply through their behavior.

The key to making it work is determining a baseline of normal behavior for a dog, and researchers have done this by developing a remote-sensing, water proof collar. Initially, they combined video with the data from the collar in order to determine which readings corresponded to what behavior, but the ultimate goal is to get rid of the cameras completely.

Dr. Cas Ladha, the project leader, explained, “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.”

Sudden changes in the dog’s behavior could serve as an early warning that something is wrong with the human. For example, a decrease in walks outside the home could indicate mobility issues, while a sudden increase in anxiety and excitement might mean that the owner has suffered a slip-and-fall accident.

By comparing video and sensor data, the researchers at Newcastle University, UK, were able to classify 17 distinct behaviors, including barking, chewing, drinking, and sniffing. Since the system would have to work with all dogs, they tested it on various breeds of all sizes and energy levels, finding that the biggest factor that differentiated results among breeds was the shoulder height of the dog.

According to the researchers, their system is the first of its kind that allows them to monitor a dog’s behavior in its natural setting remotely. The full text of Newcastle University’s presentation is available at the Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library.



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