Woman gives service dogs a voice

Woman gives service dogs a voice

ORLANDO (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- Service dogs can be trained to do a lot of things; sniff out a stroke before it happens, guide the blind, and even provide emotional support. But for as smart as they are, they can only communicate through silent actions and obscure barks. Here's the story of one woman who is giving dogs a voice which could revolutionize how lassie gets help.

With the wag of a tail and a push of the nose, 7-year-old Sky is lending a paw to scientific research.

Melody Jackson, PhD, head of Georgia Tech's Animal Computer Interaction Lab says, "This came about because my grandmother used to have one of those necklaces that was an alert necklace but she hated wearing it and so she wouldn't wear it."

Jackson has been training dogs for 45 years and is now combining it with her Ph.D. in computer science.

"We're building these vests that will allow the dogs to give us information that they have no other way to give," says Jackson.

At the Georgia Tech's Animal Computer Interaction Lab they are working on taking assistance dogs to the next level.

The dog training goes with the technology to send alerts and speak alerts that will allow assistance dogs to communicate by doing more than just stopping and sitting. For instance, at the sound of the doorbell, Sky is trained to pull the rope on his right and the computer in his vest can then send a text. The possibilities are endless.

"You can put any kind of electronics in here that you need; a GPS unit, a cellphone unit to text somebody," says Jackson.

Joelle Alcaidinho, PhD student, says "It's really fascinating to see how responsive they are to our cues, to our emotions, and I think it's a really fascinating area to explore."

Up to 12 assistance dogs of all different breeds have been trained on the vest. The longest it took any of them to learn it was just 28 minutes.

Jackson says "The shortest that it took any dog to activate this, was Sky at 27 seconds."

And Sky is showing everyone that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Jackson is working with her team at Georgia Tech to implement this technology in search and rescue dogs and police dogs. She said GPS on a dog would come in very handy if, say, they search the woods for a missing child, or even a criminal who's running from police.

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