Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A thousand scratches behind the ear to Japanese toy maker Takara for inventing the "Bowlingual," which translates dog barks into human emotions. It comprises a microphone attached to Fido's collar that transmits sound to a handheld console. From its programmed list of interpretations, the device may display that your pet means not merely, "Woof," but "I'm sad" or "I want to play."

I'll tell you who wants to play. Me. With this device, and my mutt Scooby. I've been trying to figure out what this dog is thinking ever since I plucked him from his littermates and domesticated him against his will. He frequently emits prolonged, surreal whines even after being fed, walked, petted, played with, and shown video of hot bitches. Sometimes he follows up with motionless bouts of staring at me through the passing of two or more equinoxes. Or he'll plaintively lick my kneecaps, and since no one else I know is willing to do that, I'd be thrilled to give Scooby whatever he wants.

Enter the Bowlingual. Can it help? I worry that "I'm frustrated" lighting up on a screen may not be enough. I'm going to need details like, "I'm frustrated because it's now 4, and you left at 10, and since I have no hope of ever achieving the developmental stage where children realize that objects they can't see may still exist, I thought you were gone forever. Forever! To heal from that kind of emotional trauma, I'm going to need three pineapples and a roasted pig."

Takara claims the Bowlingual is compatible with more than 50 dog breeds, from Chihuahuas to German Shepherds. I find this fascinating. What breeds are excluded? Is there something about Rottweilers, for instance, that makes this device simply start springing loose wires on trying to decide if the animal is requesting affection or just needs ketchup as a mailman condiment? I have no problem, however, understanding why Takara doesn’t tackle cats as well. If you want to know what a cat is thinking, you’d have to secure its collar not to a small $115 contraption but to three car batteries and a nuclear testing facility.

What we canine stewards really want is a gadget providing the reverse service of the Bowlingual. We need something that takes the sounds we humans make and interprets them for our dog. Sign me up for a gizmo that, when I tell Scooby, "don't jump on people," actually converts my words into a message that keeps his four peevish paws on the ground. I don't care whether that message is delivered in barks or Morse code or telepathic impulses or dolphin whistles or special sequences of various lunchmeat aromas.

The Bowlingual is a start, however, in improving communication between human and beast. I can't wait to get one, because I'm currently confused enough about Scooby's preferences that I end up throwing him nightly luaus, and it's getting rather expensive to keep purchasing those aforementioned pineapples and pigs. Don't even think about saying I cater excessively to my pet. You have no idea how breathtaking this dog looks in a pepperoni lei.