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Can dogs control their own environment?

I was a little worried to begin with that I'd been sent an April Fool's joke in July, but I'll be really fascinated to read the results of this research. I'm sure some trainers will argue that dogs can't make the necessary connections to know that if they paw a control, the temperature goes up or down.

Also, bark controlled privacy screens? - I'm pretty sure some dogs bark to get attention, not to hide themselves away from it, so I do wonder how that will work out. What do you make of the latest news from Dogs Trust?

TAKING PUPPY-STEPS TOWARDS THE SMART KENNEL OF THE FUTURE

Paw-controlled central heating, bark-activated privacy screens and snout-operated doors could become standard features in the rescue kennel of the future, as Dogs Trust funds new research into the feasibility of canine-operated ‘smart’ kennels.

Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, is awarding £14,700 for the research project entitled “Towards the smart kennel: a requirements elicitation study for a smart environment to support good canine welfare in kennels.”

The innovative project is the idea of Dr Clara Mancini, head of the animal - computer interaction laboratory at The Open University.

Her study will take place at Dogs Trust’s rehoming centre in Loughborough over a six month period, although any new technology resulting from the study won’t be put in place for some time after the research is completed.

Dr Mancini and her team will ascertain whether the introduction of canine triggered ‘smart’ technology will help the rescue dogs’ behaviour, mood and ways of handling stress – all of which will help the pooches eventually find new homes. Dr Mancini is keen to stress the importance of the end user – ie the dogs – being part of the design process. She will be focussing on giving the dogs control over key aspects of their lives in the kennels, including temperature control, privacy, food control, lighting and access to exercise areas.

Dogs Trust is funding the research because it cares for over 16,000 stray and unwanted dogs per year at its 19 rehoming centres. The charity is keen to find out whether its kennels can actually contribute to the dogs’ mental health, besides simply functioning as enclosures.

As Paula Boyden BVetMed MRCVS Dogs Trust’s veterinary director puts it,

“Dogs Trust is known for being a world leader in innovative kennel design, and this research reinforces our commitment to dog welfare. We want to counter the misconception that rescue kennels are cold, unwelcoming places full of sad dogs.

The dogs’ welfare is our priority, always, and currently we invest heavily in designing our kennels to be as comfortable as possible, but what if we went one step further; could the kennel improve the dog’s mental health?

Dr Mancini’s research is full of exciting potential. We need to discover whether kennel design might allow the dog to control his environment, such as temperature, bedding, and outdoor access, and we believe all of these things could make for happier – and therefore more rehomable – dogs.”

Professor David Argyle BVMS PhD DECVIM-CA (Oncology) MRCVS, head of Dogs Trust’s grant committee, explained,

"Dogs Trust Canine Welfare Grants committee is committed to funding research which aims to enhance the welfare of dogs. Dr. Mancini's work is to try and develop kennel systems to improve the life of kennelled dogs. Although some way from achieving her ultimate goal, the committee felt that support from Dogs Trust in the early stages of development would help launch this project which could ultimately support improvements in dog welfare"

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