Ever wished you could teach your dog to speak? We know our dogs understand a lot of language, but what if they could speak to us directly? Can You Teach Your Dog To Speak? In short, the answer is yes.
Christina Hunger MA, CCC-SLP, a San Diego-based speech pathologist, has discovered a way to train her dog to actually speak to her using adaptive speech technologies – language buttons preprogrammed with words her dog, Stella, can choose between can communicate desires, needs and thoughts. Christina Hunger has a viral Instagram on which she documents her dog’s learning with the name “Hunger4Words” and a website with additional resources.
In short video clips, Stella uses her extensive vocabulary, programmed into writable keys, to not only express things she wants to do, such as going to the beach, but also more abstract concepts such as feelings and emotions and combining words.
In a recent video, Stella used her soundboard (a collection of preprogrammed buttons) to quickly press multiple buttons to tell her owner that something was going on outside her home and that she wanted to see it. This new training opens up the possibility for dogs to communicate more clearly with us and for us to gain a better understanding of how our dogs see the world.
Teach your dog to talk to buttons
If you’ve always wondered what your dog has to say, now is your chance to find out. You don’t have to be a speech therapist or dog trainer to gain a new understanding of what your dog wants. Now you can actually learn how to teach your dog to talk to buttons. Using recordable dog training buttons is a fun way to enhance the communication you already have with your dog. It’s also something that any dog, with practice, can use to communicate at least basic things like walking or playing.
Recordable dog training buttons are available from many retailers. There are high-end buttons that can be purchased through medical and therapeutic utility companies, but you can also purchase cheaper options. I found this four-pack of buttons on Amazon that I bought to train my own dogs. Each key can be recorded for 30 seconds (much more time than you need for just one word). Some owners also choose to purchase foam floor tiles and hook and loop fasteners to keep the buzzers in place to keep their dog from slipping.
Learning resources Recordable response number
The buttons have a non-slip pad that prevents them from moving when your dog presses the button to communicate. Hunger’s website lists these other slightly more expensive buttons, which are also available on Amazon, under their resources. Price: $ 20
Foam floor tiles
Step by step
The thought of teaching your dog to “speak” using communication buttons may sound daunting, but at least at some initial basic level, many dogs should be able to handle this. The key is patience and consistency. If you speeded up the process, your dog would likely push buttons, but not necessarily understand the meaning behind the button he is pushing. Dogs in a hurry in the training process are also less likely to use the buttons to actively communicate.
- Once you have your buttons, you’ll want to teach your dog how to use them. The easiest way is to combine buttons with things that are of great value in your dog’s life. Examples could be: playing, walking, going to the garden, etc. Essentially, you want to choose words that your dog already has an association with and that your dog will enjoy. Having trouble figuring out which words already mean something to your dog? Hunger has this PDF vocabulary worksheet on their website that you can use to brainstorm. For my own dog, I chose “potty” as the first word, which at home means going out into our garden. I recorded “potty” on one of the buttons and placed it in a central spot in my house that we had to pass to get to the back yard.
- Once you have a button ready, it’s time to use it. At this point, you will press the button every time you and your dog are about to do anything associated with the button. For example, every time I went out with my dogs, I would press the button and it would say “potty” and then my dog and I would go outside. The goal is not to force your dog to press the button, or even directly teach your dog to press the button as you could for a button press trick. When you use buttons for communication, you want your dog to mirror you by watching you press the button before doing any particular activity. Again, the key is persistence and patience.
- Over time, after watching you press the button, your dog will make the connection between the button and the desired activity. At that point, your dog will mirror you and push the button himself. If your dog uses the button, give a lot of praise and immediately give your dog what they ask for. In this example, if my dog presses the button that says “potty,” we’re going to have a little party and I’ll take him outside in the back yard right away.
- Once your dog understands the use of a button, you can add more buttons for different aspects of your dog’s day. In the same way, you can also introduce toys and games into your dog’s everyday life by rewarding your dog for pressing the button.
Think about how many words your dog already knows, from clues to trained tricks and behaviors on people, objects, and experiences such as the names of toys, the park, the beach, etc. This approach to training will already know all of your dog’s words (as well as others Items and experiences) can all be named for your dog. And in time, in theory, your dog may be able to use his taped buttons to ask about these objects and “have a conversation” with you. Lots of people ring their doorbell and teach them to ring the doorbell when they need to go out. As a promising and technologically much more advanced and precise version of this training, I like to think of the writable dog training button method that Christina Hunger developed as a pioneer.