If dogs could talk, theyd tell us some home truths | John Bradshaw
John Bradshaw, an honorary research fellow at the University of Bristols vet school and author, writes that technology means we could soon be able to translate barks. We really need better ways to understand their needs
On 1 April 2010, Google announced a breakthrough for the animal kingdom: an Android App that would allow an impressive range of species, from guinea pig to tortoise, to speak in English. The date was, naturally, significant. Presumably the advertised animal linguistic database, against which the neurobiological acoustics of the animals utterances would be compared, never existed. The tortoise file would have been pretty limited, in any case.
Now, the idea of talking animals has resurfaced as part of Amazons Shop The Future concept, but this time it seems more serious. Its mainly focused on dogs, though in principle it could be adapted for other domestic animals like cats maybe even tortoises. The core of the technology would be a collar that monitors precisely how the animal is moving. When it recognises from those movements that the animal wants something, the speaking part of the collar activates. For example, when the dog scratches at the back door, the collar might say I need to go out!. The speech part of the collar can be programmed to speak in the owners interpretation of their pets voice which should incidentally provide scope for all manner of humour, both intended and unintended.
Amazon also suggests that the collar might translate barks into English, coming close to Googles tongue-in-cheek claim of converting animal speech into human vernacular, but there seems little point the dogs bark would most likely drown out the voice coming from the collar. There might also be some technical obstacles in getting the collar to recognise specific elements of each dogs body-language, since dogs come in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes and energies. Imagine a collar designed for a Saint Bernard being accidentally swapped for one intended for a border collie.
Although Amazons intentions in announcing such a product may have been more headline-grabbing than thought-through, they do raise the more serious issue of how well we communicate with our pets. Despite all the time pressures imposed by modern lifestyles, many of us still desire to include pets in our families. Learning to understand a new dog takes time, but many new owners seem woefully unprepared for this, doing no research into what dogs needs are before buying one, often via the internet. The current craze for flat-faced dogs such as pugs and French bulldogs, many of which suffer debilitating and painful genetic disorders as they age, is just one consequence of this lack of forethought.