Alan Dee: If you could talk to the animals, would it really be worth it?


According to received wisdom, you are either a dog person or a cat person.

There is, of course, a third category in which I am happy to put myself – I’m just a person, and anything four-legged will be waiting a long time for me to direct any loopy love in their direction.

I just can’t see why anyone would saddle themselves with being tied down by an expensive, ungrateful, smelly, unresponsive burden. I’ve had teenagers, thank you very much, and at least they grow out of it for the most part.

Pet owners of all sorts, but we’ll restrict ourselves to dogs for today, cherish the bond of companionship which makes all that wet weather walking, the crippling vet bills and the little matter of scooping for poop worthwhile. They reckon.

But wouldn’t it be so much better if their faithful friend was able to communicate in a more meaningful way?

Well, they won’t have to wait much longer – boffins for whom a cure for cancer or world hunger just doesn’t provide enough of a challenge have come up with a prototype gadget which they say could take pet-to-human communication to a whole new level.

It’s a headset that uses brain-scan technology to detect doggy thought patterns, analyse them and translate them into the spoken word. No, really.

Potential canine conversation gambits already identified include simple phrases, not unlike those that might be uttered by a child’s toy, to express joy, tiredness, confusion and other basic emotions.

In the last decade, big strides have been made in mapping the human brain’s functions, but the developers say this is the first time anyone has tried to apply the technology on man’s best friend.

Hang on a minute, isn’t there a missing link here?

Let’s be honest, however clever the technology a dog is never going to be much of a conversationalist.

I can’t see a future full of canine cocktail parties at which sharp-tongued Sealyhams and tart terriers trade quips while wolfing down far too many tiny sausages and being sick on the carpet. Dogs are dim, and whatever they have got to say it’s hardly worth strapping a headset on their bone-headed bonce – besides, they’ll only scratch it off in double quick time and more than likely wreck the delicate instrument. More expense.

But if scientists really are making progress in mapping the emotions at play in a human brain, forget the dogs and let’s cut straight to the chase.

A simple machine that can tell your handler when you’re hungry, when you’re tired, when you’re anxious and when you’re just confused?

I can think of many a wife who would buy one tomorrow, and many a husband who would be happy to wear one if it meant an end to that inevitable question: What are you thinking?