This Doggie Wearable Claims to Detect Your Dog’s Emotions

It’s like a Fitbit for your moody pooch. But does it work?

Oct 6 2015, 1:30pm

Photo: Latteda/Flickr

DogStar Life's new TailTalk claims that it can read your dog's emotions by the motions of its tail. "Tail wagging is asymmetric and includes complex emotional signals that the human eye cannot recognize," the IndieGoGo page for the project reads. But what you can't read, an accelerometer and gyroscope allegedly can.

The "Fitbit-like device" is attached to a pet's tail, and connected via Bluetooth to the owner's phone. Like the Fitbit, it monitors movements throughout the day.

According to Mike Karp, COO of DogStar Life, the movement tracking data is based on research from the University of Bari Aldo Moro and other input from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Bari Aldo Moro research suggested that there are left-and-right brained responses in dogs. A tail wag to the dog's left suggests intimidation or fear, while a wag to the right is typically a happier emotional response. The researchers placed heart rate monitoring vests on the dogs, then recorded their response to videos of other dogs wagging their tails to measure emotional responses.

However, the researchers also admitted that the tail wagging may not have been an intentional communication's signal so much as the activation of a particular hemisphere, according to a 2013 National Geographic article.

"The tail is a dog's social interface, signaling behavioral nuances that other dogs recognize, but which humans do not always understand," one of Cornell's vets, Pamela Perry, said in a statement. "Fortunately, there are ways to monitor and record dogs' body language, and ongoing research offers a more detailed understanding of how our pets express themselves."

The wearable began life at Cornell, which granted the seed money to the inventors. Those inventors have since been testing it out on pooches.

"Fortunately, there are ways to monitor and record dogs' body language, and ongoing research offers a more detailed understanding of how our pets express themselves."

"The testing is going really great," Karp said in an email to Motherboard. "Our biggest initial worry was about whether it would stay on the tail, and whether dogs would mind it. And, we have spent a lot of time testing that, and finding that most dogs think about it for about 30 seconds before moving on."

Also like the Fitbit, it's meant less as a moment-by-moment tally of emotions and health, rather than a measure of the full day. Data is tracked by time and synced with the phone as needed. Part of the goal is to ensure that caretakers are acting responsibly toward the pet, as well as aiding in diagnosing any other underlying emotional stress or response to certain conditions.

The tests are, essentially, to find via accelerometer and gyroscope if the tail wagging tends toward the left or the right. The corresponding app creates an "emotional diary" based on the highs and lows, and whether the tail wags indicated stressful situations or happy, excited ones. It doesn't currently monitor any biometric information like heartbeat.

"We want you to look at several days or weeks of data before making any drastic decisions. A dog can have a bad day, but that doesn't mean the dog walker is all bad," Karp says. "However, if that data consistently tells you that your pup doesn't like an experience, then you should definitely find an experience that they do like."

So far, the device has been tested internally, which Karp says has been going "very well." But with the crowdfunding IndieGoGo campaign launching today, it's now up to the public to decide. Indeed, it's a very strange proposition: monitoring animal behavior for creatures who don't speak for themselves. (Or at least use their words instead of just barking.)

The device itself will cost $99 to IndieGoGo investors, with the money going toward scaling up production. The retail price will eventually be between $129 and $139, which means a lot of "taking the producer's word on it" going in, one of the common crowdfunding shortfalls.

However, this device seems to have institutional backing from an Ivy League university, giving it a little more credibility than some crowdfunding vaporware. At the time of writing, more than $21,600 has been pledged out of a goal of $100,000. If the project reaches that goal, it may end up the new must-have stocking stuffer for people who call their dogs "fur babies."