Space & Innovation

Wearable Computer Teaches Dogs New Tricks

Good boy! This custom dog harness consistently reinforces good behavior using sensors and a special algorithm.

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Giving out dog treats for positive reinforcement really is a science.

Canine researchers recently unveiled a new computerized dog harness that knows exactly when to dispense those yum-yums, optimizing the training process, reports The Daily Beast.

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The comfy smart harness was created by assistant professors Alper Bozkurt, David Roberts, and their team at North Carolina State University. It contains sensors and tech that monitors a dog's posture and body language. A deck-of-cards-sized computer transmits that data wirelessly, enabling autonomous training.

Bozkurt and Roberts are part of the multidisciplinary CIIGAR Lab, which focuses on canine tech. A dog wearing their latest harness goes into an enclosure that contains an automatic treat dispenser. When the harness senses the dog going from standing to sitting, a special algorithm in the harness triggers a beeping sound and releases a dog treat at just the right time, according to the university.

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"We use sensors in custom dog harnesses to monitor a dog's posture, and the computer reinforces the correct behavior quickly and with near-perfect consistency," Roberts said in a university press release. Their proof of concept study was published recently in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (abstract).

The trick was getting the treat-dispensing timing right. Too fast, and the system risked rewarding the wrong posture. Too slow, and the reinforcement wouldn't work.

After honing their system with 16 volunteers and their dogs, the optimized algorithm rewarded correct behavior with 96 percent accuracy compared to 100 percent with a human trainer. The algorithm had the advantage of being more consistent about response time, though.

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Roberts, who has three dogs of his own, told the Daily Beast that he doesn't think the harness system will ever replace human trainers. But he does envision it assisting with training shelter dogs so they can get adopted faster. His team also pictures their harness being used alongside human-directed training for service dogs.

Last time I was flying out of Denver, I happened across what looked like a bomb-sniffing dog drill. Trainers had a placed a series of suitcases on the terminal floor in an area between gates, and their harnessed dog was checking each one. It was a powerful reminder of what our furry friends can do.

Next, the NC State University team wants to use their computerized system to teach dogs specific tasks like safely and clearly marking when they detect bomb components or assuming a unique posture to get help for a diabetic human. I think they should get more than one treat for feats like that.

America's most heroic dogs have just been named by a panel of dog lovers and experts, along with nearly 1 million public votes, for the

2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards

. The awards, which have been given over the past four years, honor courageous dogs who go above and beyond the call of duty, and/or who have overcome immense adversity. "It is an honor to support an effort to recognize the valor of our 'best friends,'" said Lois Pope, who has been the awards' presenting sponsor over all four years. "From those who defend our country to those who help us heal, guide us, protect us, and help find the lost, every single contender exemplifies the courage and heroism we seek to spotlight in the Hero Dog Awards campaign," she added. "Through this national forum we have helped educate America about the lifesaving, life-affirming work of our nation's canine heroes." One of the honored dogs is Harley, who was abused for 10 years while living in a small cage in a puppy mill. Current owner Rudi Taylor rescued Harley, who suffered from heart problems, a fused spine, a broken tail, gnarled toes, deformed legs, and tooth and gum disease. After receiving health care, Harley now helps other formerly abused dogs, both indirectly, through the campaign

"Harley to the Rescue,"

and directly with site visits. Taylor said, "There is something indescribable in the way he communicates with the sad and scared dogs."

Glory is a "certified accelerant detection canine." That means she is trained to sniff out minute traces of hydrocarbon-based accelerants, which can be used to commit arson. Glory works in her home state of Wisconsin, and in neighboring states too. "Glory's keen senses go far beyond detecting accelerants," owner Keith Lynn said. "Firefighters and paramedics deal with situations that affect them emotionally. Glory has the ability to sense whom is having a rough day and will spend time with them, which helps to relieve that stress."

7 Heroic Dogs That Saved Their Owners' Lives

Pit bull Hudson and his two siblings at just three weeks old were found nailed to railroad tracks in Albany, NY. As a result, Hudson's paw was cut off. He was later treated for his injuries, along with his sister Pearl, but his sister Carina sadly died because of the prior abuse. Hudson underwent several surgeries and was outfitted with a prosthetic paw. Owner Richard Nash then "got him in training," he said, "with the goal that Hudson and I would become a therapy dog team." They did just that, and the two now visit schools, hospitals, adult day care facilities, hospices and more. Nash said, "Hudson brings smiles to everyone he meets… Hudson the Railroad Puppy is changing hearts and minds about the pit bull breeds one at a time."

Photos: Dogs Who Like To Surf

German Shepherd Axel is a member of

K9s for Warriors

, an organization that provides veterans with service canines. Axel was paired with Captain Jason Haag (U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.), who was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury after returning from two combat tours in the Middle East. "In combat, every soldier is paired up with a battle buddy," Haag said. "These days, my battle buddy isn't another Marine. It's Axel. Day in and day out, he's by my side, ensuring that I'm in a constant state of peace and not fear."

Military Dogs Suffer From PTSD

Two dogs named "Glory" made the list. In this case, Glory is an eight-year-old bloodhound who has been trained and certified to track lost pets. During her long and successful career, Glory has helped to bring closure to hundreds of families. Glory's owner Landa Coldiron shared a statement from the owner of a once-lost cat named Pistol. "We were terrified," it reads. "Pistol was gone from our front yard and we had no idea where to look. When Glory led me to the freeway and wanted to cross, I couldn't believe it. But Glory was right, as we had Pistol back that same afternoon. Pistol had crossed the 101 freeway and was right across from where Glory indicated."

Sgt. Rambo served in the Marine Corps from Jan. 6, 2011, to April 11, 2012, as an explosive detection Military Working Dog (MWD) based out of MCCS Cherry Point, N.C. While on active duty, Rambo conducted 994 hours of training, and 622 missions on base and in his local community. Rambo was medically retired due to a left shoulder injury, and in November 2012, had to have that limb amputated. Now, Rambo visits places like nursing homes, where owner Lisa Phillips said "he is able to bring love and life to the residents who suffer with dementia." Rambo also visits youth groups during the summer, she added, bringing "hope to children with special needs."

Photos: Dogs in Combat

Officer Chris Alberini works with Dax, whom he said "saved me from being shot when he climbed into an attic where a suspect was hiding with a shotgun. If Dax hadn't been there, I'd be dead." Alberini found out later that the suspect had previously texted both his attorney and girlfriend about killing police. Speaking on behalf of his force in Ashland, Massachusetts, Alberini said, "We all owe our lives to this brave canine."

Originally trained as a signal service dog for the deaf, Chara wound up training herself to detect impending involuntary muscle attacks up to 45 minutes prior to the episodes. She did this after her deaf handler, Kristina Church-DiCiccio, developed a neurological condition that causes the attacks. Church-DiCiccio said that now Chara is "the furry guardian or angel that watches over everyone and everything." Chara and the other seven dogs on this list are finalists for the 2015 Hero Dog award. "The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards celebrate the important role dogs play in our lives," said Robin Ganzert, who is president and CEO of the American Humane Association. "The American public and our special judging panel now have an extraordinarily tough task ahead of them in determining who our top dog will be because all are worthy winners." To learn more about the eight finalist dogs and to cast your vote (through September 7), please visit the

Hero Dog Awards website

.