New Device Could Help Teach Your Dog To Communicate With You
We've all wondered what it would be like if we could actually talk to our pets, but one company thinks it can allow us to do just that, with a device that allows us to communicate with our dogs.
US company CleverPet was founded in 2014 by Leo Trottier, who built a gaming system for pets that gave them treats if they pressed buttons on the systems in the right way.
He saw some videos posted on YouTube by speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger that showed her dogs pressing buttons with specific words on them - just like the system she was using when helping kids to communicate in ways beyond talking.
An idea was born, and Trottier created FluentPet, using Hunger's techniques to create devices that dogs could theoretically use to communicate with their owners.
Visually it's made up of different hexagonal panels, each with six different buttons on that the dog can press.
Prices range from under $30 to over $300 (£23 to £230) depending on whether you want to buy a tester kit or something with a broader vocabulary. Words are grouped onto different panels according to type - for example, a panel of verb or action words.
Speaking to the BBC, Trottier said: "The question really isn't so much 'do they understand?' at this point, it's 'are they doing something that's meaningful and interesting?"
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Explaining the simplicity of FluentPet, he said: "It's just like a normal sound recording button that people are using for teaching their dogs.
"These buttons, you can put any word you want into them, so you'll say something like 'outside' and then when your dog presses the button it will repeat 'outside'."
Trottier admits there's not concrete proof yet that the dogs understand what they're hearing, but said: "Because we know dogs can recognise words, when they press the button we think - we haven't proven this yet - but we think that they're recognising the word that they hear."
All of this sounds incredible, but before you start dreaming of a near future when you're discussing the finer qualities of dry versus canned dog food with Fido, it's worth remembering that vocalised communication is only a very small part of how most animals express themselves.
Also talking to the BBC, clinical animal behaviourist Rosie Bescoby cautioned: "Unlike humans, pets will use really quite subtle body language signals to communicate."
Reflecting on devices like FluentPet, Bescoby added: "I think it's all explainable just in terms of learning theory and what the owner has taught the dog to do and what's got reinforced. It's certainly part of training that we do every day is allowing the animal a way to communicate with us.
"But it doesn't always have to be based on English language."
The most important thing, Bescoby says, is that when choosing a pet you feel like you have a strong understanding of their body language as that will be a big help in understanding what it is they actually want. The after-dinner chat can come later.
Featured Image Credit: FluentPet
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