Any dog owner will tell you they know exactly how their dog is feeling; that they are feeling happy, nervous, or angry. The question is, however, do they really?
Beginning with dogs, it has been 10, 20 years since the study of animal emotions were officially integrated into ethology. In our current world where pets have become a valuable part of our lives, there now is a device that will make you rethink the relationship between you and your dog.
Right now, on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, a device that lets people understand the emotions of their dogs is gaining popularity. We were able to sit down the man behind this project, CEO of INUPATHY, Joji Yamaguchi, to hear all about his product.
Identifying emotions we can’t tell solely from a dog’s facial expressions
—-You created the first device in the world that exposes the emotions of dogs in real time heart rate variability analysis. Can you tell us how this product came to be?
Joji: When my dog Akane was a puppy, I could tell he was stressed out. I wanted to find out what was causing him to be so stressed and how to relieve him from this stress. That’s when I got into this project.
There’s a particular incident that I remember very well, during the early stage of testing existing heart rate monitors on dogs. There was one dog who was recued from an abusive breeder had been living with his new owner for a year. When I put the device on him, his heart rate sped up because he was nervous, but when his owner started to pet him, his heart rate gradually slowed down. It was that moment that I realized just how intimate the relationship between a dog and his owner truly is.
Dogs express emotions much more than we think. If we are able to pick up on these emotions, I think we could understand our dogs a lot better. This is why I want more people to use INUPATHY.
Joji: From these experiences, I realized a desire to provide dog owners with information about the emotions their dogs are feeling that cannot be picked up from just their facial expressions. Can you tell which picture shows the dog feeling anxiety?
—-Is it the one on the right?
Joji: Correct. That is one most dog owners would be able to identify, but what about this second picture?
—-I don’t know.
Joji: Right, this one is difficult. It’s almost impossible for the even the most passionate dog lover to decipher. But if you take a look at it again along with its heart rate, I think you will be able to tell.
Heart Rate: 150bpm Heart Rate: 200bpm
Joji: You can see from the picture on the right that the dog is experiencing anxiety because its heart rate is higher. With INUPATHY, dog-lovers can bond with their beloved pets by seeing their heart rates in real time.
INUPATHY is not a translating device.
—-So we can use INUPATHY as the tool to achieve this bond.
Joji: Yes. Just taking note of the change in heart rate creates such a difference; we now see something we could not see before. INUPATHY is not a translating device. It is purely a device meant to foster the relationship between humans and dogs.
—-Can you tell us a few episodes of when you used INUPATHY?
Joji: Sure. There are three that I remember in particular.
The first one is about a service dog that always had what looked like a sad expression on his face. His user/owner was deeply hurt when a friend suggested that the dog’s expression was caused by his discontent in working as a service dog. When the man happened to walk by the INUPATHY booth at an event, he decided to try it out to find out if this was truly the case. What he discovered from using INUPATHY was that his service dog was, in fact, a very happy dog because his device would light up in rainbow colors whenever his owner would pet him. It felt amazing to be able to show this owner what he could not tell from his just his dog’s facial expressions.
There was another dog, when the INUPATHY would light up in rainbow colors every time her owner would call her name. It turns out the owner was a dog trainer who uses a no-punishment approach in training her dogs, so it was a rare case of a dog who had never been yelled at before. INUPATHY was able to prove that this owner succeeded in his training approach; that he had built an ideal relationship with his dog. I thought it was a neat example of how INUPATHY can help reveal a great relationship between dogs and their owners.
Lastly, this is about my dog Akane again, but whenever there are earthquakes, I usually console him by calling his name. Once I started using INUPATHY though, I found out that petting him helps him relax a lot more than calling his name. I was reminded that there is more to than meets the eye.
—-Thank you for sharing with me these wonderful stories. So from what I read is that INUPATHY can distinguish dogs’ emotions as well by monitoring their heartbeat. Can you explain to me the mechanism behind this function?
Joji: Not only do we monitor their heart rate, but we also study and record every slight change we observe in the rhythm of the dogs’ heartbeat as well. By analyzing different patterns of the heartbeat, we found there are certain patterns of when dogs are happy, and when they are concentrated on something. The same heart rate could indicate different emotions if they have different rhythms.
Using this information, we created “Play Mode”, which provides dog owners the best way to play with their dog. We developed this “Play Mode” using the expertise of specialists in this field. In addition, users can track their dog’s health by storing all of the data on their heart rates and emotions on the cloud.
—-How were you able to create such advanced technology? Can you tell us a little about your background?
Joji: I originally studied ethology up until graduate school. After that, I had a 12year career in software engineering. Therefore, I had knowledge of both software and animals. This combination led to the creation of INUPATHY.
Just in time, not Just in Case
—-That’s a very interesting background you have. Did you have any prior knowledge about hardware?
Joji: No, I learn things when the time comes I have to. I admire Neil Gershenfeld of MIT Media Lab and his “just-in-time” education model. Instead of studying for “just-in-case” scenarios, I studied hardware only when I needed to, in other words, just in time. I think this method of studying is applicable not just for hardware, but also for studying any new skill.
—-What did you learn during the development process of the product?
Joji: Having the opportunity to observe so many dogs, I discovered the true potential that dogs hold, in how well they are able to read human emotions. Perhaps it is because of their keen sense of smell and sight, but they excel in recognizing the different expression of humans. I believe this can serve many beneficial purposes for humans in the future, such as dogs finding cancers and foreseeing heart attacks.
On the other hand, I realized how little humans understand dogs. I want to be able to figure out what goes on in their minds as well.
—-What are your future ambitions?
Joji: In the future, I definitely want to try the same thing with different animals, like cats and other household pets, as well as farm animals, as part of animal welfare. I would also like to someday start a serve specifically for wild animals. I want to contribute in some way to solve problems like endangerment that wild animals face.
The future I envision is one where we are able to solve energy problems as well as food issues; a world humans can live in harmony with other animals.
—-Thank you for a very interesting interview Joji!
I was shocked when I heard that 25% of dogs suffer from depression. Dogs have become such important parts of our lives, yet we know so little about how they feel. Us humans have a hard time figuring other humans out, so its no surprise we have difficulties communicating with dogs.
Hearing Joji talk about INUPAHTY not as the magical solve-all to all of dog problems, but as exclusively a tool to help dog owners connect with their dogs illustrated how passionate he was about what he was doing.
Joji’s passion towards what he does and his adhering to the “just-in-time” method is something all startups, not just hardware startups, can learn from.
I cannot wait for a future where we can all be more connected with our beloved pets.
Check them out on Indiegogo!