What's All That Barking About?

Have you ever wondered what that dog next door was trying to tell the neighborhood when he barked for two straight hours starting at 3:00 AM, keeping you awake in spite of the earplugs, the pillow over your head, and your yelling out the window every ten minutes? Now, thanks to a company in -- guess where! -- Japan, you can find out. Takara Co., Ltd (motto: "Barking and screaming our way into the 21st century") has released a "portable emotional analyzer" called Bowlingual which they say can translate a dog's barking. Of course at the moment you have to speak Japanese to know what Spot-san is saying, but I suspect that's easier than learning to speak fluent Doggish. It must be since it took Takara and two other high tech companies several years to get this thing working and it can still only identify six types of barks.

The dog wears a collar that contains a microphone. This transmits the dog's yapping to a device which analyzes it, then displays its meaning on a screen, much like a subtitled version of Beethoven with your dog playing the part of Beethoven and you playing Charles Grodin, only you're allowed to put inflection in your voice. It tells you whether your dog is happy, sad, frustrated, angry, assertive, or desirous. It doesn't tell you why, that's up to you to figure out. For that you need to rely on good old visual clues. For example, if your dog is barking and you're opening a can of corned beef hash, it's probably because it can't tell the difference between that and dog food. Not that many of us can either. If she barks at the mailman every day, it's a probably a sign that she needs more ginkgo in her diet because the mailman's walked up to the house every day of the dog's life -- seven times a day in dog years -- so she certainly should remember him by now. Of course if he's humping your leg -- that's the dog, not the mailman -- you might need a Bowlingual, since this could be caused by any of those six emotions, though obnoxious is what usually comes to mind. (NOTE: If it is the mailman humping your leg, Bowlingual won't help. Pepper spray might.)

This long sought after invention brings us one step closer to mankind's oldest goal -- to become just like Dr. Doolittle. The Rex Harrison one, not the Eddie Murphy one. Imagine being able to know what your cat is saying when she sits on your face in the middle of the night and pretends your nose is a catnip mouse. Or being able to tell whether your parakeet is singing because it's happy, bored, showing off for the cute little pigeon sitting on the window sill, or trying to drown out all the hype over Kelly Clarkson, the winner of American Idol. Or just trying to drown her out.

Hopefully once they perfect Bowlingual they'll expand it so it can translate for other animals. An elephant version would have come in handy in India recently when herds of wild pachyderms stormed into some villages, drank the resident's homemade beer, then in a gesture of complete boorishness and ungratefulness, complained because there was no Guinness. Just kidding, actually they destroyed the villagers houses while drunk. Talk about rude houseguests who won't be invited back. At the very least a Bowlingual Dumbotron IV would have helped the elephants in court when they tried to defend themselves on the grounds that the villagers should have carded them before they were allowed into town. Hey, if you've ever heard an elephant testify you know how ambiguous some of those trumpeted roars can be.

Knowing what animals are saying would not only make life around the house quieter, it could also save lives. In the United States, 27,000 people a year are injured by rats. Face it, we have no idea what all that squeaking is about. What we've always assumed was a sign of aggression or hunger could, in fact, be them asking that all copies of Michael Jackson's Ben be destroyed, something no sane person would object to. And what about the more than 1 million collisions that occur each year between deer and cars? If we knew what deer were saying when they leaped out in front of us it could help save their lives and our car insurance rates. Okay, so deer don't speak, but they could probably learn to bark, in which case we could outfit them all with Bowlingual collars, learn Japanese, and find out what they're saying. It will probably turn out to be "Bambi was playing with matches."

I don't expect the Bowlingual to be a huge seller. After all, if a dog's vocabulary is as limited as the Bowlingual makes it out to be we're going to get bored with the conversation pretty quickly. But that doesn't mean we won't find other uses for it. Moviegoers could use it to translate Marlon Brando's mumbling. Los Angeles traffic police could use it to interpret Nick Nolte's excuse the next time he's pulled over. And the United Nations could use it to determine if President Bush's bark is worse than his bite. I smell a Nobel Peace Prize in the making.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com.

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