New technology to detect stress in guide dogs

Researchers at Swansea University are helping to pioneer a range of bespoke collar sensors to detect stress in guide dogs in training, which have to learn to operate in tense situations.

Guide dogThe project stems from the Celtic Advanced Life Science Innovation Network (CALIN), a €12 million, four-year, Ireland-Wales funded programme involving a network of experts based in Wales and Ireland and aimed at creating innovation, jobs and growth in both countries.

Dr Sofia Teixeira from the Centre for NanoHealth at Swansea University is working with researchers from the ICT for Health Programmes group at Tyndall National Institute, Cork, to translate technologies developed for human application into use for training and communicating with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB) dogs.  

Dr Teixeira said: “The diagnostic device we are working on makes use of a highly sensitive graphene-based Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) sensor. EIS enables rapid analysis, is compatible with miniaturisation and can be manufactured at an industrial scale.

A saliva sample is taken from the dog and placed on the EIS sensor, completing a circuit. A current is then run through this circuit and the resistance is measured. This value is compared to a bank of already defined biomarkers, which can identify if anything in the sample is a cause for concern. Multiple samples will be taken for comparison to ensure accuracy.”

Over the next few years, the project aims to develop bespoke sensor systems for detecting parameters such as motion, temperature, respiration and heart activity and deploy them onto a dog’s harness and/or collar. This wearable technology will leverage embedded artificial intelligence to provide a better understanding of the dog’s health and welfare, providing vital information that will inform decisions about everything from breeding to training approaches to client partnering.

Dr Paul Galvin is Head of ICT for Health Strategic Programmes at Tyndall National Institute.  He said: “What we are trying to understand with these sensors is the link between physiological parameters and stress. Cortisol is a biomarker for measuring stress, so utilising Swansea’s techniques for measuring cortisol, we will be able to validate and optimise our wearable physiological sensor systems. 

It costs between €40,000 and €50,000 to train one guide dog.   These dogs are a safety device for their owners and understanding how the dogs react to stimuli is very important, determining whether a dog will be able to handle the stress of life as a guide dog or whether they would be more suitable as an assistant or companion dog instead.

Ultimately, we are hoping the sensors will allow IGDB to enhance their training and development of guide dogs and offer better support for their clients.” 

The Celtic Advanced Life Science Innovation Network is an Ireland Wales 2014-2020 programme part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.


Image: Courtesy of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind