Science

Tracking technology makes more contented dogs

A study into dogs’ behaviour when off the lead has led to the conclusion that dogs are more content with their surroundings and other dogs when they are off the lead and owners aren’t agitated.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Retrieva Tracking and found that dogs’ behaviour changed positively when a tracking device was used to plot their location. Tracking the dog via a smartphone, iPad or other device with map capabilities meant owners were more at ease with letting their dog have increased freedom, while out walking as their whereabouts were always available.

The research was designed to explore human-animal interaction mediated by technology, with the ultimate aim of fostering human-animal relationships. The evaluation took two different forms: observation of the animals’ behaviour and testimonials of their human companions.

When asked, many of the human participants recalled how distressing it had been for them when their dog had gone missing and how, since wearing the tracking collar, the dogs were more relaxed because they were more relaxed. In addition, dogs returned to their owners independently and more frequently during the walk, without their names being called constantly.

Some owners also reported changes in their dogs’ social interactions as, due to the use of the tracking technology, they were willing to give the dogs much more freedom. One participant commented that their dogs were friendlier towards other dogs because they were able to interact socially unlike dogs that are always on the lead.

Author of the study Dr Clara Mancini, a research fellow at the Computing Department of the Open University, said: “Nowadays technology pervades almost every aspect of our lives, yet the animals who share our worlds are seldom seen as worthy recipients of our technology.

“An important aim of this kind of research is to understand how our technological interventions influence animals and their behaviour, so that we can learn how to design technology that can support their welfare and relationships with humans,” she added.

Dogs are also considered a part of the family – meaning a missing pet can be very distressful, said Andrew Stuart of Retrieva Tracking. “Tracking your dog on your phone gives them greater freedom and quality of life and it gives you peace of mind knowing they can be found even if you can’t see them.”

“The prospect of losing that animal is daunting and a very real threat which affects a lot of people,” he said.

The animals were aged between one and ten and had been wearing the tracking collar for periods ranging from one week to eight years with usage varying from occasional to daily.

The study, which recently was nominated for the Best Paper Award at the 14th ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, is part of a wider research programme on Animal-Computer Interaction led by Dr Mancini at The Open University.

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