Making Strides - Wearable Tech for Canine Athletes?
Agility is one of the most popular dog sports in the world. The American Kennel Club manages over one million agility entries and United States Dog Agility Association affiliated groups conduct over 1,000 days of agility events each year! These amazing canine athletes jump, weave, and turn through a series of obstacles fighting for the fastest time among competitors in their jump height group.
As with any sport, intense physical activity can expose our beloved canine athletes to the risk of injury. Just like human athletes, they face challenges like inadequate conditioning, repetitive movements, and imperfect form, which can put stress on their bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In human sports medicine, wearable technology is increasingly being used to track activity, improve performance, and even prevent injuries. Dedicated agility dog owners and handlers want that same advantage for their canine athletes.
With funding from AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) Grant 03068-A: AGILE (AGility Innovations Leveraging Electronics) - An Initial Study of Technology for Quantifying Canine Agility-specific Activity, Dr. Arielle Markley, a canine sports medicine specialist at The Ohio State University, is working to meet that need. She and her team at Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Akron are developing wearable sensors that can recognize and measure dog movements common in agility training and competition. Plus they plan to develop an app that uses that wearable tech information to help agility teams optimize their performance and minimize the risk of injury.
“Right now, we know very little about the risks of injury and how to prevent them in agility dogs,” Dr. Markley says. “In order to be able to understand, treat, and prevent injuries we have to have the technology to monitor dog activity in a detailed way. We are working to develop technology that can monitor canine performance so that we can detect things like overtraining and fatigue, with the hope that this technology can be used to keep our canine athletes and working dogs safe and injury-free.”
The team developed a custom circuit board that can be worn on the collar of a dog performing agility (see Photo 1). Initial data proved that the wearable tech was able to discriminate which agility obstacle the dog was performing at any given time. Investigators have also started developing the accompanying app that will allow agility handlers to measure training progress and hopefully detect possible injuries before they become severe or chronic.
Thanks to the help of volunteer agility teams around the Columbus, Ohio region, data collection and analysis are well underway. “I think one of the most exciting things so far was when we got the data from the first weekend testing our new sensor,” Dr. Markley said. “We could see visible differences in the data plots between the different agility activities. So not only does the sensor work, but with machine learning we should be able to detect even smaller differences between movement patterns than we initially expected. The biggest challenge is that we almost have too much data!”
Initial findings from this research will be presented at the 9th International Conference on Canine & Equine Locomotion (ICEL) in the Netherlands and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This work represents an important step to help maximize performance and prevent injury in canine athletes and working dogs. CHF and its donors have been committed to these goals since the early days of canine sports medicine and rehabilitation – funding research that benefits the physical, mental, and emotional health of service dogs, search and rescue dogs, agility dogs, and more.
In the fast-paced landscape of canine agility, wearable technology is emerging as a game-changer that keeps our canine athletes at the peak of their performance, ensuring they leap, weave, and turn with joy, while staying safe and injury-free. Stay tuned for more updates about this groundbreaking work benefitting all dogs at www.akcchf.org.
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