Dogs to get their own computers

“I wish Bruce could talk,” is a phrase frequently uttered by Michael’s mum. “Oh but he can,” I assure her, “in his own way.”

And, really, dogs seem to have the ability to communicate with their owners just as eloquently as – and sometimes more politely than – most people. Over time, as pet parents we learn their behaviours and begin to understand what they want.

As our understanding grows, we put words to each action. Where at one time we may have scratched our heads perplexed as our dog stared at us with an unknown question, now we can engage in two-way communication, asking our dog if he needs “water” or “the toilet” or “a cuddle” or if he’s “ready for bed”. For us, the confirmation that we’ve understood Bruce’s question is a little hoppity skip or, if he’s sitting on the sofa, a leap to the floor. It’s a useful system for all of us.

The famous head tilt

The famous head tilt

Dogs have been found to be as intelligent as the average two-year-old child. The cleverest dogs, with the border collie at the top of the tree, can understand up to 250 words and gestures and perform simple mathematical equations. In my opinion, effective communication really helps to build a strong bond between dog and human.

Scientists are now in the process of designing computers that dogs can use to operate household appliances and even communicate with their owners. Researchers at the Open University have been awarded a £15,000 grant by Dogs Trust to develop so-called “smart kennels” with computer technology installed. If a dog needs to raise an alarm, he or she will be able to push a button and call the emergency services.

The computer is primarily being developed for dogs belonging to people with disabilities, to make it easier for assistance dogs to turn on lights, washing machines and other household appliances – even answer the telephone. Rather than using a mouse and a keyboard, the computers incorporate large bright buttons and touch screen technology. Objects that can be picked up and pulled or shaken also feature.

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Dr Clara Mancini, head of the animal-computer interaction team at Open University, said, “We are trying to develop something analogous to human computer interaction for animals. It is about giving them more control and getting them to do things better. Alert dogs for example are already used to summon help if their owner gets into difficulty, but we are trying to make it easier for them. If you have technology that makes it easier for dogs to dial 999 and alert the emergency services then it means more dogs can do it.

“Looking to the future, we can’t really tell how far we can go. We have a lot of preconceptions about animals and what they are not capable of doing. It is possible that we can invent a computer system that allows animals, if not to send emails, but understand they can engage in conversation with a human on the other side of an internet link.”

So there you go, mum-in-law. Perhaps one day Bruce won’t simply be nuzzling your knee in the hope you’ll take him for a walk. He’ll be sending you emails demanding it.

Words: Aislinn Kelly

Photographs: Aislinn Kelly and Michael Thompson

All photographs are copyright of The Mighty Pooch dog photographers: The Mighty Pooch is a specialist dog photographers based in Yorkshire but happy to travel for photoshoots. Go behind the scenes at some of our shoots here.


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