This Smart Harness Tells Owners How Their Guide Dogs Are Feeling

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a device that notifies users if their guide dogs are distressed or sick. Because dogs usually express illness or stress through their breathing, posture, and heart rate it can be difficult for blind or otherwise disabled folks to tell when they’re not feeling well. This device measures the dog’s breathing and heart rate and vibrates the harness handle to alert the owner when the dog is sick or suffering from heat exhaustion.

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” said David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State. “This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public.”

The system can also tell when a dog is stressed or anxious, both of which are major factors in guide dog retirement. The system vibrates gently to inform owners about the dog’s status. One motor by the thumb beats in time with the dog’s heart and another motor vibrates when the dog breathes. When either of these motors vibrates too intensely the owner can stop and check things out.

The project will appear in a paper entitled “Towards the Non-Visual Monitoring of Canine Physiology in Real-Time by Blind Handlers” at the Second International Congress on Animal Computer Interaction, in Johor, Malaysia.