Sunday, July 23, 2006

Leaping up at the door as the doorbell rang, Pepsi, a boisterous black mutt — not previously known to be a Clint Eastwood fan — barked: “Go ahead, make my day.”

Clearly confused, the mongrel, Finn, woofed back: “Please be nice to me. I just want to be your friend.”

Welcome to the brave new world of Bow-Lingual, a Japanese device due to introduced in Europe later this year priced at about $100. It reportedly breaks down the barrier between man and beast by translating a canine’s every growl and whimper. Or so its makers claim.

Created by Matsumi Suzuki of the Japan Acoustics Laboratory, the gizmo records the “voiceprints” of dog barks from more than 80 breeds, plus “mix/other.”

The doggy utterances are then analyzed and divided into six categories — happiness, sadness, frustration, on-guard, assertiveness and neediness — before being translated into one of 200 preprogrammed phrases.

“Repeating yourself doesn’t help,” said Finn, somewhat cryptically, after a small transmitter was fitted on his collar.

When the owner pressed the hand-held receiver again. “Woof,” or “I wish you made sense,” the device reportedly replied.

Recording bark samples in Japanese homes, Mr. Suzuki took video footage of the dog’s behavior and the context of what the dog was, er, saying.

Finn, 8, seemed skeptical as a reporter encouraged him to say more. His right ear pricked up, indicating something along the lines of: “What the [heck] are you doing?” The Bow-Lingual begged to differ. “I’m strong, are you?” Finn was asking.

Out in the park, Finn seemed to be having a good time, but the new game of making him bark and then laughing at what he had “said” had worn rather thin. “I’m feeling a little odd,” he said, as the reporter threw a stick for Finn to fetch.

Finn came bounding back with the stick in his mouth. Silently, he looked up. The Bow-Lingual was still in its “waiting for a bark” mode.

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