Teaching Dogs to Communicate with Buttons: How Does It Work?

Teaching Dogs to Communicate with Buttons: How Does It Work?

Along the years, speech pathologists have used recordable buttons to establish communication with nonverbal individuals, which has translated into communicating with dogs, too! Christina Hunger, a speech therapist, was the first one to notice and do something about it. She explains that when she brought her puppy Stella home, she noticed similarities between her pup’s communication skills to what she normally sees in toddlers when working with them. So, she provided Stella with tools that would help her communicate and 
‘share her voice’. 

Now Stella uses more than 45 words and combines up to 5 words together to form “full sentences”; she asks and answers questions, makes observations, shares her feelings and thoughts, and participates in short conversations. 


How Does It Work? 

Dogs can “speak” to their owners by pressing buttons located in a board on the floor, in these buttons a word or sound has been previously recorded, let’s say words like “play”, “food”, “water”, “outside”, “now”. 

The board is part of the umbrella term known as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, which includes different kinds of tools that go from boards with symbols to speech-generating gadgets. 

The words pet owners choose for their dogs are words they’re already familiar with and they understand. Most dog parents start with sets of four to six buttons, and eventually go up as their dogs get used to the previous ones. It’s a process that takes time and training. It’s basically associating the sound or word to the action and repeating it until the dog becomes accustomed to it. 

The director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at University of California San Diego, Federico Rossano, along with partners in the department are carrying out a study to scientifically confirm whether animals can “talk” or not. The study includes dogs, cats, and horses. One of the things they’re looking at is how fast can a dog learn to associate the word to the action, they are currently studying over 700 participants. They hope to start forming connections between certain factors that may influence the results of learning speed, like age or breed. 

This study may result in finding out about animals showing generally claimed to be human, like the comprehension of temporal and special displacement, make observations, or create narratives. Like the TikTok famous dog, Bunny, when she presses the buttons “Where” and “Dad”, meaning she might be aware that her dad is not in the room with her and she’s wondering where he is. 

Bunny’s board has over 70 buttons now, which include words related to time, such as “morning”, “evening”, “yesterday”, and “tomorrow”. Until now, there isn’t any factual evidence that shows that dogs can have clear concepts of time passing. 

This concept is still new and being studied, some may say that these pups make associations between pressing a button and something happening or receiving something in exchange, because in order to really understand language involves making unique combinations of words together in order to form full sentences and create a narrative. Rossano says they don’t want to make bold claims regarding the subject. 

Tips on How to Start 

If you want to try this communication method with your pet, here are some tips that Christina Hunger has for you. 

  1. Talk to your dog 
  2. Observer your words 
  3. Use your dog’s buttons 


Where to Get the Buttons 

There are different options, we’ll list the most popular right here for you: 

  • Fluent Pets: especially their Get Stared Kit that includes 6 buttons, 3 compact hexagonal tiles, 67 ideogram stickers, 18 pre-installed batteries, and of course, they’re customizable. 
  • Learning Resources: this kit comes in a set of 4 buttons. 
  • Talking Products: comes with a pack of 6 talking tiles with transparent covers that record up to 80 seconds of audio. 
  • Mighty Paw:  their smart bell helps out dogs to communicate when they need a walk to take care of their necessities! 
  • Galapara Store: they have multiple options but these LED voice recorder buttons play sound