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Dog Moods May Diagnose Owner's Health

Update Date: Oct 08, 2013 02:27 PM EDT

Man's best friend provides more than just love and commitment. New research reveals that pet pooches may also help diagnose their owner's health.

Scientists say that monitoring a dog's mood could provide insight into their owner's health. Researchers explain that collars equipped with movement sensors that tracks a dog's behavior could be used as an early warning sign that an older owner is struggling to cope or their health is deteriorating. 

British researchers at Newcastle University are currently using movement sensors to track normal dog behavior at home and out of the house. The sensors can show when the dog is on the move, how much it is barking, sitting, digging and other canine behaviors.

Researchers explain that changes in the behavior of normal behavior of healthy, happy dogs can help reveal illness or boredom.

Researchers presenting at the 2013 UbiComp conference in Zurich said that the next step is to use the dog's health and behavior as an early warning system that an elderly owner may be struggling to cope.

"A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems that can help older people to live independently for longer," lead researcher Dr. Cas Ladha said in a news release.

"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," Ladha explained.

In the study, researchers were able to classify 17 distinct dog activities such as barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering and sniffing. Researchers also assessed the system against different breeds.

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

Not only will the new system allow people to monitor canine behavior in its natural setting, it can also be used as a discreet health barometer for dog owners.

"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," co-researcher Nils Hammerla said in a news release.

"Humans and dogs have lived together in close proximity for thousands of years, which has led to strong emotional and social mutual bonds," Hammerla said.

"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' behavior could be an early indicator for families that an older relative needs help, " he explained.

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