Worried about someone’s health? Connect their dog to the internet

For the first time ever, researchers have created an accurate, robust, collar-mounted system for continuously monitoring and cataloging the behavior of dogs. Originally intended to track animal welfare, the scientists at Newcastle University who invented the system (pdf) now propose that it could also be used as an early warning system for the health of the dog’s owner. In particular, their device could help elderly people for whom direct monitoring could raise privacy concerns.

dog with collar
Do dogs have a right to privacy? (Ladha et al./Newcastle University)

The collar-based monitoring system can record data for up to 30 days on a single charge, and it’s waterproof. Its only sensor is a “three-axis accelerometer,” which measures movement in three dimensions. Using only this data, researchers were able to catalog 17 different dog behaviors—everything from walking and running to sniffing and barking—with 70% accuracy, across a range of dog breeds and sizes.

Because dogs tend to be in close proximity to their owners, and engage in many behaviors that are specific to communicating with humans, the idea is that a detailed log of a dog’s behavior could be an early warning system for when the animal’s owner is struggling with illness or disability.

(Thanks to Christoph Möller for inspiring this piece.)

collar, dog
The system works even if the position of the dog’s collar shifts. (Ladha et al./Newcastle University)
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