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Virtual puppy love...

A VIRTUAL puppy that leaps for Frisbees, eats, sleeps and responds to training and even fouls the pavement is heading to Britain.

The ‘Nintendog’ arrives here in October but it has already sold nearly a million copies in Japan since its release in April.

The game, for Nintendo’s hand-held DS console, updates the Tamagotchi craze of 1997 with electronic pets that demanded constant attention from their owners.

The Nintendog has a choice of 15 animated breeds including Labradors, Corgis, Chihuahuas and King Charles Spaniels.

The virtual pets can be fed, bathed and trained. Over time, the attentive owner will amass enough ‘credit’ to acquire a wardrobe for their pet, teach it to perform tricks and enter Frisbee-catching contests. But if the puppies are not played with every day, they become lazy and unresponsive.

The dogs, which never grow old or die, can interact with other puppies through wireless technology. They will bark if another console with Nintendogs loaded on it is nearby.

Robert Saunders, who works for Nintendo in London, said: "Using a microphone attached to the console you can teach your dog to sit, stand, roll over, play dead, jump or even do back flips."

The puppies learn to recognise their name and their master’s voice but there is a social cost to disciplining them verbally, Mr Saunders said. "You really get into it. But when you are out and about and shouting ‘Sit!’ into an electronic handset you get some very interesting looks." Unlike in the real world, the virtual dogs tend to sniff around each other’s ears rather than anywhere else when they meet. But they react to each other in an unpredictable way depending on their personality. They might be very playful or they might be suspicious or even aggressive towards other dogs but they won’t have a full on fight," Mr Saunders said.

Anne Salter, an educational psychologist, said that such a gentle computer game would provide a welcome contrast to the more aggressive titles that dominate the market.

"It’s a little bit more realistic than blowing people’s heads off," she said.

"I’m also very comforted that the dogs can’t die. I don’t think it would be healthy for children to practise cruelty to puppies. On the other hand there is a concern that children could become too fixated on this and neglect other parts of their lives”.