Soon, dogs may be able to talk to us…

dogs

But is that a good thing?

Like many of you, I bet, I dream of being able to converse with animals, Dr. Dolittle-style.  So I was pretty excited when a friend told me she’d heard about a device that would convert dogs’ thoughts into human speech.

No More Woof is a headset whose sensors (non-invasively) measure a dog’s brainwaves.  The brainwaves are translated into one of several phrases, and “spoken” via a recorded voice that emanates from a horn-like speaker attached to the dog’s collar.

The inventors are currently raising funds to develop the project on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and I’m not surprised that they’ve far exceeded their $10,000 goal.  After all, who wouldn’t want to know what their dog was thinking?

After reading the news, it was all I could think about.  …But unfortunately, this soon made the concept lose its magic.  Much as I dream of having conversations with animals, I know that the No More Woof wouldn’t make that possible: animals don’t communicate the way we do. Translators often talk about the challenge of humans understanding each other – it’s not just a linguistic issue, but a cultural one, as well.  Animals take that concept even further. And even if the No More Woof could transform brainwaves into complex thoughts from a human perspective, how could you send equally complex ones back to the dog?

Then there’s the fact that, as this article points out, we can already understand dogs, at least to some extent.  Our furry companions have been studied so extensively that it’s easy to find basic information about how they communicate.  Here, for example, is a great guide to canine body language.

Still, a doggie translator could be helpful in some situations. To know if an animal is sick or suffering would be a potentially life-saving resource, since it’s not always easy to tell. So I was disappointed that the phrase “I’m in pain” doesn’t seem to be one of the device’s translatable expressions.   

I also have to wonder how often a thought would be expressed. Would it be one time per thought, or would it be like what comedian Elaine Boosler describes in this video (start at the 2:39 minute marker)?

Since most dog owners can already tell a lot about what their pooch wants or is feeling, maybe a device that could translate human brainwaves for dogs would be a better idea. But this, too, is also probably unnecessary: as this amazing BBC documentary points out, just as we can understand them, dogs already pretty much understand us.  In addition to our body language, scientists have found that the average trained dog can comprehend up to 160 human words – close to the same amount as a toddler! 

We humans can learn how to express ourselves in some animal languages, as well.  For example, check out these videos by cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy.  I’m happy to say that I know how to tell my cat Ali that I love him. In cat language, that’s a slow blink.  Not only is it cool to be able to communicate with Ali; I realize that this might be the only way it would be possible – after all, while most dogs might be okay with it, I don’t think many cats would ever willingly go around wearing a headset. 

Like Ali, I’d probably pass on the No More Woof.  But it does bring up a really interesting point: It’s said that a majority of even human communication is nonverbal, so why is verbal communication the most valid to us?  Maybe we have to put our Dr. Dolittle dreams aside and accept that we can “talk to the animals”, and they can talk to us – just not with words. 

Alysa Salzberg

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One thought on “Soon, dogs may be able to talk to us…

  1. Pingback: Is it better to say it out loud or write it down? | aiaConnect

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