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A dog’s physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well-being likely reflects that of their owner.

Can Owning a Dog Benefit Senior Health?

Dogs have a long history of supporting humans — they’ve done everything from being service animals to bomb sniffing to aiding in search and rescue efforts. To top it all off, dogs are our best friends. That’s why a research team from England’s Newcastle University conducted a study to find a way to remotely and accurately keep track of a dog’s activities. Their system allowed them to identify more than a dozen distinct actions. This research could help family members or doctors monitor the health of aging loved ones, because a dog’s behavior is highly dependent on its owner’s behavior.

The researchers crafted a new type of system to monitor dog behavior. Currently, most analyses consist of questionnaires or observing dogs and manually taking notes, but these methods do not offer the most accurate picture of dog health. An accurate analysis can take as long as a month and requires much more intensive observation.

To solve this problem, the researchers crafted a waterproof, collar-mounted accelerometer designed to track a dog’s movements and provide insight into the animal’s activity level. They affixed the device to 18 dogs (of both sexes and various breeds, ages, and sizes) and let the experiment run for two weeks. During this period, the dogs’ owners were  furnished with mobile cameras so they could videotape the animals’ activities. The researchers used the video captured by the humans to confirm the movement patterns for the activities.

The AX3 logging accelerometer equipped with a four-gigabyte memory card worn by the dogs was able to accurately identify 16 different activities, including barking, eating, pawing, running, sitting, and shivering, with nearly 70 percent accuracy. These findings have significant implications for dogs who take care of their older humans.

“A dog’s physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well-being likely reflects that of their owner,” explained Nils Hammerla, one of the research team’s behavior-imaging experts. Additionally, Hammerla explained that any changes that are noticed in the routine (perhaps if the dog is walked less often or receives food less regularly) could be an indication that a senior family member might need a little assistance. 

The dog accelerometer has applications for ensuring that both humans and dogs stay happy and healthy. Imagine if gathered data reveals that the dog in question is typically walked every day but then isn’t walked for, say, an entire week. What has changed in this scenario? An event like this might could indicate nothing more than bad weather — but, more importantly, it could hint at an injury or even a mood change that has made the dog’s owner feel apathetic or exhausted. These changes in human behavior could potentially be viewed as early warning signs for bigger problems when it comes to senior health.

Happy dogs are associated with happy humans. Once this new device becomes widely available, canine companionship may be even more important for senior health than ever before.

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