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Koira ja lapsi sohvalla
Most dog owners are committed to the wellbeing of their furry friends. Now there are new technologies coming out that will help the owners better understand their dog’s wellbeing.Photo: Jonne Renvall, Tampereen yliopisto

Worried about Buddy’s wellbeing

Dogs have come a long way from being guards and hunters to man's best friend, and most dog owners are committed to the wellbeing of their furry friends. Now there are new technologies coming out that will help dog owners better understand their dog’s emotional state and physical wellbeing.
4 min
Sanna Kähkönen

Is Buddy stressed or in pain? Is he afraid of being home alone? Is he getting enough food and exercise?  With our fluffy family members unable to talk to us, many dog owners are wondering how they could catch a glimpse into the inner world of their pets.

“Dog owners are interested in knowing more about the emotional and physical wellbeing of their dog and how their dog experiences being left alone,” confirm researchers Sanna Rytövuori and Elina Vulli of Tampere University.

Rytövuori and Vulli participated in the Buddy and the Smiths 2.0 project that ended in late 2018. The project explored digital services and technologies that enhance communication between humans and dogs, such as activity trackers and heart rate sensors. More than 800 dog owners answered a survey that examined their attitudes towards new dog technologies.

“The majority of respondents reported positive attitudes towards dog technology and felt it could improve their dog’s wellbeing,” they say.

“For example, the sensors can reveal whether a dog has been taken out for a walk and for how long. This data may make it easier to fit dog walks into a busy family schedule.”

Navigating data and common sense

Few respondents had first-hand experience of dog technology but the overwhelming majority were very curious about high-tech pet innovations. Only 4% of respondents had tested an activity tracker but roughly 40% were keen to try one in the next three years. Agility enthusiasts are usually early adopters of dog tech products and spread the word amongst other dog owners.

The latest pet technology allows pet owners to book an online appointment with a veterinarian. Every second respondent was interested in trying such a service.

“Online appointments are convenient if, for example, a dog develops a strange rash around its muzzle over the Christmas holidays. A vet can take a look at the rash over live video without the owner having to drive a long distance to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. The vet will be able to tell whether the dog should be seen after the holidays or be rushed to the clinic immediately,” says Sanna Rytövuori.

Some respondents were concerned that common sense is taking a back seat to technology in caring for our pets.

“Common sense is still needed, and the data generated by all the new technologies must be interpreted.  The monitors and sensors are like car navigation systems: we cannot blindly follow the displayed instructions but must also trust our own experience and observations,” says Elina Vulli.

“Technology can help us pick up the early signs of a slowly progressive disease sooner than if we rely solely on observations,” continues Rytövuori.

Koira ja lapsi leikkivät lattialla.
Animal emotions are now hot topic in research field.Photo: Jonne Renvall, Tampereen yliopisto

Sensor detects when our dogs are sniffing

Dog technology reveals what our dogs get up to during the day. While it is basically possible to use the same methods on dogs that were originally developed for measuring the activity levels and vital signs of humans, there is one big difference: fur. The goal of the Buddy and the Smiths 2.0 project was to develop sensors that are specifically designed for measuring the heart rate and everyday activity of dogs and classifying different activity levels.

“We succeeded in identifying seven types of activities with 90% accuracy lying down, sitting, standing, walking, sniffing, trotting and galloping,” says Assistant Professor Antti Vehkaoja.

The researchers found a suitable heart rate sensor that is made of a soft material and has a knobbly surface that comes into contact with a dog’s skin.  

“Researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki tested activity trackers and heart rate sensors on dogs at a canine sports centre in Helsinki. It turned out that the devices work best when they are attached to a harness on a dog’s back,” says Antti Vehkaoja.

Antti Vehkaoja attended the Fifth International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction in Atlanta, USA, in December 2018. Pet tech is a growing industry abuzz with activity, and the potential applications of dog technology are not limited to monitoring the wellbeing of our family pets.

“For example, breeders of guide dogs in North Carolina wanted to develop a method for identifying which puppies will make the best guide dogs,” says Vehkaoja.

“Zoos have been experimenting with letting orangutans and gorillas play digital games as part of an enrichment scheme. 

How is Buddy feeling?

USA has long been a pioneer and trendsetter in the pet tech industry, but Finland-based companies are also looking to gain a foothold in this thriving market. One of the research team’s primary goals was to build networks and mutually beneficial relationships between researchers and companies. For example, the project partners hosted two hugely popular Tech4Dogs events that attracted not only researchers but also approximately 200 company representatives.

“It is easier to conquer the world together,” says Sanna Rytövuori.

Animal pain is currently the subject of intense scientific interest around the world.

“People are worried about missing the signs that their beloved pet is in pain. If our grant proposal gets the green light, pain in animals will be the topic of our next project,” says Elina Vulli.

“Animal emotions are another hot topic. A scientifically validated technology for deciphering emotions in animals would be a real jackpot.”


Buddy & the Smiths 2.0 brought together researchers and company partners

  • The project was conducted between 2016 and 2018 to develop technologies and digital services that help improve communication between people and dogs, inject intelligence into the measurement of canine wellbeing, and facilitate the daily life of dog-owning households.
  • A further goal was to bring together and strengthen the Finnish business ecosystem emerging around the intelligent products and services available to dog owners.
  • Funding: Business Finland, universities
  • Four research groups from Tampere University and the University of Helsinki.
  • Parallel business projects conducted by Vetcare and Best Friend Group. The project was also supported, among others, by SmartDOG, Kaunila, the Finnish Agility Association, Eläinklinikka EHYT, Petsofi, FitDog Finland, Three Plus Group and Lymed.
  • Watch the videos on Facebook (in Finnish) – do you identify with any of the groups?