Man's best friend may also be his best ally when it comes to health in old age. New research shows a dog's behavior can be used to alert family and caregivers that an elderly relative is struggling to cope or is in failing health.
Newcastle University researchers found remote-monitoring of a dog's behavior — how much he is moving around, barking, sitting, digging, and doing other things dogs do — can be used as an early warning sign of an older owner's health and well-being.
"A dog's physical and emotional dependence on their owner means that their well-being is likely reflect that of their owner," said lead researcher Cas Ladha, M.D. "And 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."
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For the study, Dr. Ladha and colleagues mapped the normal behavior of a healthy, happy dog, and used it to set a benchmark against which the animals could be remotely monitored. This allowed for any changes in behavior, which might be an indication of an owner's illness, to be quickly spotted.
"In order to set the benchmark we needed to determine which movements correlated to particular behaviors, so in the initial studies, as well as the collars, we also set up cameras to record their behavior," explained Dr. Ladha.
By tracking the dogs' behavior, the Newcastle team was able to classify 17 distinct dog activities such as barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering, and sniffing.
"This is the first system of its kind which allows us to remotely monitor a dog's behaviour in its natural setting," the researchers said.
"But beyond this it also presents us with a real opportunity to use man's best friend as a discreet health barometer. It's already well known that pets are good for our health and this new technology means dogs are supporting their older owners to live independently in even more ways than they already do."
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