RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Dog training takes time and also takes a certain level of expertise.
Those are two reasons North Carolina State University’s Computer Science and Engineering departments, as well as the College of Veterinary Medicine, have created a computer-assisted training program.
After countless weeks, the experts built a system that combines multiple aspects, from a dog’s physiology to computer engineering.
The first step to use the system is getting a harness on the dog. “The harness could be something that is foreign to dogs so we are reinforcing the idea of holding still, while letting a person put this on you,” explained Sherrie Yuschak, a clinical technician with N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine.
On that harness, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Alper Bozkurt explained, “We also have physiological sensors to detect the heart rate or respiratory rate to find out if the dog is excited or not.”
The signals on the harness transmit to the computer, and the program crafted by this team of researchers is able to detect a dog’s posture or gesture.
CBS North Carolina watched the program in action at the N.C. State work-space; it’s where our crew met Diesel, a Labrador Retriever who will soon celebrate his fifth birthday.
These scientists say the computer-assisted training program detects Diesel’s, or any dog’s, posture or gesture.
In the trial performed, Diesel’s movements are captured by sensors that correspond with moving bars tracked on the computer.
When Yuschak tells Diesel to, ‘sit, sit,’ the computer will recognize if the dog obeys; if so, Diesel, or any dog participating, hears a single beep.
The system immediately triggers a device, the pet tutor, to give the dog a treat for following commands.
Eventually, the dog understands that sitting is beneficial; the training teaches the dog that he or she gets rewarded for behaving.
“We’re able to take things that historically have been tough to do in even laboratory elements, in terms of animal interactions with computers and dogs in particular, and make them feasible to do in the real world,” said David Roberts, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at N.C. State.
The researchers say their current challenge is using the million dollar funded project with multiple dogs, but they tell CBS North Carolina they expect to jump over the hurdles.
“It’s really important for us to see that our technology has an impact and it improves the lives of the people and the animals around us,” Bozkurt detailed.
Another goal is to keep animal welfare at the forefront of the conversation and to encourage people to use positive reinforcement as a tool for training rather than devices like shock collars or even physical harm.
The scientist say their project still has a ways to go before perhaps it goes to market, but in the meantime, they’re enjoying this experiment and the results.