We develop close relationships with our dogs, so I think most animal lovers would agree that our pets pick up on our moods. When I'm having a bad day, I can see the effect on my dogs, whether it be a transfer of emotions or, something more tangible, like feeling restless because I've skipped their daily walk. But can my dog's behavior predict my own state of mind and health?
Researchers at Newcastle University are exploring the possibility. The team is using movement sensors to track canine behavior in and out of the home. A high tech waterproof collar monitors 17 activities, including barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering, and sniffing.
Led by Dr. Cas Ladha, the study mapped what they consider baseline, or the normal behavior of a healthy, happy dog. They can then use this as a benchmark to compare other animals against. Any change in behavior might be an indication of illness or boredom.
The really unique part is the next stage of the research. Now Dr. Ladha's team is hoping to use canine behavior as an early warning for elderly family members in trouble. Their goal is to develop a system that can reassure family and caretakers than an older relative is well, without intruding on their privacy. If canine behavior and the well being of their humans is linked, tracking a person's health through their dog could be an ingenious way to discreetly support an elderly family member. A pet's behavior could also pick up on subtle changes that could uncover problems before they become serious.
This research seems to have some really cool possibilities for how we can help aging friends and family. I can't wait to find out more as the Newcastle team explores the next step.