Barking Mad? Dog Collar 'Translates' Dog Barks

Japanese toy company claims it has developed a 'translating' dog collar.

ByABC News
August 4, 2009, 5:05 PM

Aug. 6, 2009 -- Yesenia Aceves, a self-avowed dog lover, says she can tell what her Italian greyhounds want by listening to their barks. But even she isn't buying -- literally or figuratively -- a newfangled dog collar that claims to figure out on its own what Fido is trying to say.

Later this month, TakaraTomy, a Japanese toy company, will release in Japan the Bowlingual Voice dog collar. The device includes a microphone worn around a dog's neck and a separate digital reader that -- the company says -- translates barks into one of six emotional states: happy, sad, frustrated, threatening, needy or assertive.

But dog owners such as Aceves are having a tough time believing it will work.

"Since I have personally trained [my dogs] according to the different sounds that they make, I don't know that I would really trust the collar's telling me what they want," said Aceves, 30, of San Diego. "I don't feel like all dogs do the exact same bark."

Some experts say that dog barks can't even be translated into human words.

"It's a cute idea," said Kathryn Lord, a doctoral candidate in organismic and evolutionary biology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "But it's hard to see the world or feel the world like they do. When we say a dog feels something, it's probably not exactly that."

The Japan Acoustics Laboratory, according to a press release, provided "research and development and consulting as well as aiding speech, acoustics and radio waves" for the Bowlingual Voice's creation. The firm says the device provides spoken "translations" of the barks of up to five dogs at a time.

And, along with the translation function, the device includes some amusing, if basic, tools for owners, such as a planning schedule, a quiz on dog facts and a guide to interpreting dogs' body language.

The Bowlingual Voice, for now, is not for sale west of Tokyo. List price: 19,950 yen (roughly $220 U.S.).

The involvement of the scientific community has not quieted the skeptics -- scientists and dog-owning citizens among them.

One such skeptic is Melissa Reinckens, a lawyer in New York City, who thinks it would be cool to communicate with her dogs. But she said she finds the TakaraTomy's claims laughable.

"I don't doubt that there are a range of emotions," said Reinckens, 30. "But a mood ring? Come on."