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Could Your Dog Be Trained to Call 9-1-1 in an Emergency?

Date: 2017-06-27
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From a story by Jacqueline Howard posted on CNN, Updated 9:22 AM ET, Wed June 21, 2017
© 2017 Cable News Network, Inc.

Dr. Melody M. Jackson, founder and director of the FIDO Project, has been studying how service dogs can be trained to use technology to communicate with humans during a medical emergency. "We want to be able to let these dogs communicate with humans very specifically and very clearly so that even a person who isn't a dog trainer will understand what's going on," she told CNN in a recent news report. "If the dog runs up to you and a speaker [it’s wearing] says, 'Excuse me, my handler needs your attention; can you please follow me,' OK, that's clear."  Story © CNN; Photo: Rob Felt, via The FIDO Project.

From high-tech wearable vests for dogs to a dog-friendly touchscreen that works like a telephone, Melody Jackson, an associate professor and director of the animal-computer interaction lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and her colleagues there have been developing new ways for canines to communicate with humans during a medical emergency.

Jackson and her team have tested a touchscreen that dogs can use to call or text. Dogs could be trained, for example, to activate a device if their owner falls or if they hear a verbal cue telling them to "get help," said Jackson, who founded the FIDO project (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations) at Georgia Tech to research ways to improve communication between dogs and humans. "The dog could go over to a touchscreen and touch a series of icons on the touchscreen and call 9-1-1 with your location," she said. "We think that, literally, this could change lives, make lives so much better, and be a life-saver."

Jackson and her colleagues have trained her border collie, Sky, and other dogs to approach a television-size touchscreen surface and use their noses to push three buttons when they hear the command "help." Once the buttons are pushed, a computer connected to the touchscreen can be programmed to call anyone, such as a family member, a doctor, or even 9-1-1, said Clint Zeagler, a research scientist and instructor at Georgia Tech, who has helped design the dog-friendly technologies for the FIDO project. Story & Photos © CNN, click image to access CNN's report.

Jackson, who also is a dog trainer, said that both companion pets and service dogs could easily be trained to use technology to communicate when their handlers need help. "What we realized a few years ago is that service dogs and working dogs in general have a lot of information that they need to impart to their handlers," Jackson said.

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"A medical alert dog may need to summon 9-1-1 for their person who is having a seizure. Or a military working dog might need to tell their handler what kind of explosive they just found," she said. "The dogs had no way reliably to do this. So we started focusing on technology to allow working dogs and specifically service dogs to communicate."

Jackson and her colleagues hope that dog-friendly wearables and touchscreens soon could be commercialized for service animals around the world to use. Currently, the technologies are still research prototypes and have some limitations, Jackson said. "We're working on, how do we make these more robust? How do you make the batteries last longer? How do you make this not false-positive, which means accidentally activate," Jackson said.

"These dogs love this work. The bond between a person and a service dog is unlike any other," she concluded. "We are just so proud that we can actually work in this area and hopefully create some of these technologies to keep that going."

For more details, read the complete story and watch the associated video at CNN

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via CNN, 6/22/17)

 

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