This is a finding from recent research at Newcastle University in the UK, that a dog’s behavior may be used to alert others that its owner is having a problem coping, is in failing health, or is having some other trouble. The findings are especially useful for caregivers of the elderly who own pet dogs. That a dog’s behavior could be used as an early warning system about its owner’s state of mind and health has come out of research presented at a recent conference in Switzerland.
One of the researchers, Dr. Cas Ladha, has said that “A lot of our research is focused on developing intelligent systems that can help older people to live independently for longer. 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.”
The researchers were able to classify 17 distinct dog activities – barking, chewing, shivering, sniffing, drinking or laying down, for example – that could be used to signal trouble with the owner. They compared their findings with several difference dog breeds, to avoid breed-specific behaviors seeking universal indicators.
The researchers used movement sensors fitted to special collars to track dog behavior. The sensors, they said, show when the dog is barking, sitting, digging or on the move, and other typical behaviors. Changes in behavior are what they focused on to determine changed relationships between dog and owner.
One of the co-researchers, Nils Hammerla, said in a news release that it’s well known that pets are beneficial to their owner’s health. This new technology, he said, when used to track the health and well being of elderly people, means that “dogs are supporting their older owners to live independently in even more ways than they already do.”
“Humans and dogs have lived together in close proximity for thousands of years, which has led to strong emotional and social mutual bonds,” he went on. “A dog’s physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well being is likely to reflect that of their owner.” Any changes in dog behavior, “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 said.
Photo courtesy of http://www.stuff.co.nz. You can read more about the study in the news at http://www.counselheal.com/articles/7051/20131008/dog-moods-diagnose-owners-health.htm, and at http://www.newsmaxhealth.com/newswidget/dogs-health-aging-senior/2013/10/09/id/530205?promo_code=13877-1&utm_source=1387733_Universal_Inc_Health&utm_medium=nmwidget&utm_campaign=widgetphase1#ixzz2hP5XUf1F. The scientific article on which this information is based can be purchased at http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=2493432.2493519&preflayout=flat#prox.