BEERSHEBA â€” An Israeli firm has designed a security system to ensure jailbreakers or intruders find a guard dog’s bark can indeed be worse than its bite.
Harnessing technology that interprets barking â€” to see if an animal is responding to a threat instead of just routinely woofing â€” the company aims to replace or supplement expensive electronic surveillance systems.
“There is currently very little utilisation of the watchdog’s early warning capabilities,” says privately owned manufacturer Bio-Sense Technologies, based in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva, on its website.
The company â€” which says dogs have better night vision than humans and a vastly superior sense of smell and hearing â€” used computers to analyse 350 barks and found dogs of all breeds and sizes barked the same alarm when they sensed a threat.
If the dogs sense an intruder or attempted security breach, dozens of sensors around the facility pick up their “alarm bark” and alert the human operators in the control room.
Dubbed “Doguard”, the Dog Bio Security system is in place in high-security Eshel prison as well as Israeli military bases, water installations, farms, ranches, garages and in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Eshel Prison installed the system last year to supplement its existing network of electric fences and human guards, prison officer Bazov Moris told Reuters.
Now Rex, a brown American Staffordshire Terrier, Emmy, a white Caanan, and 27 other dogs guarding the prison are tracked by sensors to alert guards to any attempted breakout at the jail, which houses about 3,000 prisoners including Israelis and Palestinians.
There have been no escape attempts since the system was installed, but Moris is convinced it works. He said prisoners at other facilities had been able to escape “because dogs barked but no alert was sent to the guards”.
During a demonstration an alarm wailed as Rex and Emmy raced, growling and snarling, alongside one of the facility’s metal fences, which a man in a brown uniform was trying to scale from the other side.
Officers in a small basement office nearby watched on a surveillance video and spoke into their walkie-talkies as a wall of computer screens flashed in red: “Dog alarm in Sector 12.”
Seconds later, several prison guards, wielding clubs, raced to the scene and tackled the man to the ground.
The dog bark-reader is just one of a batch of innovative security systems to emerge from Israel, which business magazine Forbes said in December had emerged as “the go-to country for anti-terrorism technologies”.
By monitoring not just the dogs’ barks, but also their physiological responses â€” like heart rates â€” it joins a trend for computer systems building on animal knowledge that humans also share.
Another Israeli example, from Suspect Detection Systems, offers border checkpoints a computer quiz that alerts guards if travellers show a marked physiological response to particularly tough questions.
However, Doguard is not foolproof. When first set up at Eshel Prison and at a water installation and farm in central Israel, the dogs triggered several false alarms, officials said.
“The dogs need two to three weeks to adapt â€” they must get to know their territory,” said Daniel Low, chief executive officer of Meniv Rishon, the municipal water system of the Israeli town of Rishon Lezion.
Low said he had installed the system in several places to replace guards.
Galia Alon, an official at Modi’in Ezrahi, a large Israeli security company that supplies private guards and equipment, cautioned against relying on dogs as a first line of defence.
“Dogs are excellent at spotting intruders â€” they are well-trained and have a more sharpened sense of smell than humans,” she said. “But people can identify people by looking at them and talking to them, and they are more inclined to catch them.” Yossi Brami, manager of a dairy at Kibbutz Gezer, a communal farm, had the system installed two months ago. He said he was told dogs work better in pairs because one signals to the other if an intruder appears, so two were placed to guard his calves.
The dogs used in the alarm system were rescued from shelters, Bio-Sense chief executive officer Eyal Zehavi said, adding some clients asked for them to be trained professionally first.
Eshel Prison’s dogs live in individual kennels. Several times a day, they are let out to patrol buildings, where they are unleashed in a fenced-in compound.
At Kibbutz Gezer, dogs chief and Lola are kept on a long chain and are released to run around the farm several times a day. The dogs guarding Meniv Rishon are also chained.
Israeli animal rights societies said they knew little about the system but it was preferable for dogs to live indoors and unleashed.