Can Technology Offer a Shortcut to Reading Dogs’ Emotions?

January 2, 2014

cocked head smallA while back, a product called the Bowlingual claimed to translate dog barks. Is your dog happy? Sad? Frustrated? Lonely? The Bowlingual would offer a phrase to let you know. While intriguing, suffice it to say the Amazon reviews are a little sad and a lot tongue in cheek. No one seems to have as yet gotten the inside line to their dog’s thoughts by using this type of device.

Now, a small group of researchers at the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery have come up with a newer, more technologically oriented device which they hope will offer a scientifically based glimpse into your dog’s emotions. “No More Woof” is touted as “the first device to translate animal thoughts into human language.” It consists of a headset (which I’m guessing most dogs would have to become acclimated to wearing) with an EEG sensor that reads your dog’s brainwaves and, via micro-computing and special software, translates them into human speech. Although the technology is still in development, the goal is to produce 3 levels of the product, with the price ranging from $65 to $1200. The lower end model will be able to distinguish 2-3 thought patterns, most likely “tiredness, hunger, and curiosity.” The most advanced model will allegedly program itself while in use. According to the website, “Over time this option lets your dog speak short sentences (‘I’m hungry—but I don’t like this!’).” Oh, no—I’m already imagining Bodhi’s device sounding off non-stop throughout the day: “Got anything to eat? Can we go out now? Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!” The researchers do point out that the most easily detected neural patterns are “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” “I’m curious, who is that?” and “I want to pee,” so maybe it wouldn’t be quite that bad.

It would be all too easy to dismiss this sort of technology as a joke; I mean, do we really not know when our dogs are hungry, curious, tired, or need to eliminate? But I do think there is merit to the concept, and that it might be helpful in specific situations. There are owners who are either not very adept at tuning in to their dogs’ emotional states, or are too distracted with their own lives and gadgets to realize their dog needs something. I can also imagine the device being helpful to a segment of the elderly population who tend to be forgetful, and might not feed their dog on time or let him out without a prompt. And while most dog owners do believe that their dog has emotions, it’s always good to “prove” it to those who keep insisting on viewing dogs as robotic little servants who live to please us. After all, it’s harder to get physically harsh with a dog when you know they’ve got feelings, too. I would love to have technology that would tell us once and for all whether a dog is enjoying training, or being stressed out by it. It would certainly settle some arguments between trainers who use different types of training tools.

The No More Woof is a project in development, and funds for the prototype are being raised. If the product moves forward, no doubt improvements will be made. For now, we’ll have to stick with the best technology we’ve got for reading our dogs’ emotional states: our eyes, our brains, and our hearts.
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Happy New Year, all! I look forward to seeing some of you at my seminars in 2014. For a full schedule, go to http://www.nicolewilde.com and click Seminars. And stay tuned for an announcement about a new book!


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