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Jack the Wire Fox TerrierResearchers at Newcastle University in England are onto something big: Your dog may know lots more about how you’re feeling — and about how you’re doing generally — that anyone has heretofore believed.

Except maybe you.

Using high-tech movement sensors, the researchers tracked the behavior of 17 types of canine companions — from mutts and miniature Jack Russell Terriers to Labrador Retrievers and Great Danes — both at home and out and about. They did this by attaching “a wearable sensing system” — a collar outfitted with a hermetically sealed tri-axial accelerometer and four gigabytes of built-in memory — to each of their subjects.

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The researchers tracked 17 specific actions and activities, including barking, drinking, eating, running, sniffing and walking, as well as peeing and pooping (to use the unscientific terminology).

By mapping behavioral benchmarks for healthy, happy dogs, the researchers hope to develop a way to use a dog’s health and behavior as an “early warning system” that its owner may be ill, bored or otherwise struggling.

“A dog’s physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well-being likely reflects that of their owner,” explains Nils Hammerla, a behavior imaging expert on the research team. “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.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to develop technology that can help older people live independently for longer without intruding on their privacy. “This is just the first step,” says lead researcher Cas Ladha, “but the idea behind this research is that it would allow us to discreetly support people without the need for cameras.”

Maybe you never imagined that your dog could become a high-tech health barometer, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. I don’t think I want anyone else — even if they are my relatives — watching a cam that captures me shuffling around the house in my boxer shorts.

Truth be told, the only person I will ever allow to see that is my dog.

 

Photo: tanakawho via Wikimedia

 

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