Do Dog Talking Buttons Really Work?
Have you ever wished your dog could speak English, allowing them to tell you what’s on their mind? If so, you’re not alone! As dog parents, we learn how to read our best friend’s body language or pick up on their ability to communicate what they want with their actions. But many pet parents are now exploring a new opportunity to improve communication and teach their dogs to “speak” by introducing dog talking buttons.
But what are talking buttons, and how do dogs use them to communicate? Let’s look at this fun way to connect with your pup.
Do Talking Buttons Actually Work for Dogs?
Originally introduced to the world by speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger, dog talking buttons are a form of Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). This specialized communication approach is commonly used with human children as an alternative to verbal expression. AAC can be implemented with various devices and techniques, from high-tech tablets and computerized devices to sign language and flash cards.
Having plenty of experience with the techniques in her daily work, Hunger became curious about whether the same approach could be used to communicate with her dog Stella. From there, the talking button phenomenon was born.
Talking buttons are recordable devices programmed to say a word or phrase each time they are pressed. Dog parents can then teach their dogs to associate the button with that word and its meaning. For example, you may program a button in your home to say “outside” and teach your dog that pressing the button means they want someone to open the door and let them out in the backyard.
How Do I Teach My Dog to Talk with Buttons?
The secret to teaching your dog to talk with buttons is consistency. Don’t rush the process. Instead, focus on setting your dog up for success by moving at their pace.
Some tips for successfully introducing talking buttons to your dog include:
- Start with a single button that you believe will be easier/more popular for your dog, like “outside” or “food”
- Don’t add new buttons into the mix until you see that your dog’s understanding of the existing button(s) is solid
- Only add 1 or 2 new buttons at a time to avoid overwhelming your dog or stretching their focus too thin
- Model the words with using the button consistently, for example, hit the button saying “food” while repeating the word yourself when you feed your dog their meal
- Pay attention when your dog explores the buttons and always respond accordingly if a button is pressed by acknowledging the word
One big mistake many dog parents make when first training with communication buttons is to provide a treat when their dog presses a button as a reward. While you are well-meaning in praising the use of the buttons, this can confuse the meaning. Instead, respond specifically to the word pressed, like offering a toy if they hit “play” or letting them out to the yard if they press “outside.” Treats should be reserved for the “treat” button.
What Words Should I Teach My Dog?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to what words you should teach. Instead, take a moment to consider what words your dog will use most often. Do you have a highly playful dog that is constantly trying to get your attention with a toy? If so, the “play” button may be a great first choice. Is your dog highly food motivated and super excited at mealtime? The “food” button may be a great word to start with.
Here are some of the words that our boy Lucifer uses most often:
- All Done
If you’re unsure where to start, grab a notebook and take a day or two to track your communication with your dog. Write down any requests your dog makes throughout the day. Did they nose at your arm to get pets and attention? Has your dog been dropping a toy at your feet? Does each night end with your pup ushering you to bed? Use this to help you determine what buttons your dog would benefit from most.
Can Older Dogs Learn to Talk with Buttons?
We have all heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but that statement couldn’t be more incorrect! Your older dog may need a little more time and patience to learn, but they can definitely be taught to communicate. In fact, teaching your senior dog to use talking buttons is a great way to challenge their minds, which can help to slow the aging process and prevent canine cognitive dysfunction.
Can Cats Learn to Use Talking Buttons?
Yes! There currently are no official studies into the use of talking buttons with cats, but a quick search on social media will introduce you to several conversation-happy cats like Billi from @billispeaks. They show that cats can be taught to communicate just like their canine counterparts. Of course, cats and dogs are different and may approach training and communicating in their own way. Be prepared to follow your cat’s lead and adjust your approach to training as needed.
Lucifer’s Journey with Hunger for Words Recordable Buttons
Shortly after adopting our youngest dog Lucifer, we realized we needed to find new ways to challenge his mind and offer mental enrichment. He is a German Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog/Bernese Mountain Dog – meaning he gets bored quickly, and when he’s bored, he can get destructive.
We were doing a lot of trick training but wanted to try something different. Like any millennial dog mom, I took to social media to search for trick ideas, and that’s where I first came across the dog talking buttons. We ordered a pack of recordable buttons from Hunger for Words and quickly introduced his first word – Outside. Much to our surprise, he figured out that word in just a couple of hours, quickly making the connection between the button and the door to our yard.
Over the following weeks, his vocabulary continued to grow and evolve. It was only a couple of months into using the buttons that he was combining buttons to express more complex thoughts like “Lucifer Cuddle Mommy” or “Play Outside.”
Not only did the buttons make communication easier, but they also helped strengthen our bond. We regularly talk to one another now and love having the ability to connect in this way!
- Improves communication by helping dog parents understand what their dogs are asking for
- Mats easily connect to build on your dog’s vocabulary
- Provides a great mental enrichment opportunity
- These buttons are larger, which may be a challenge for those with smaller living spaces
- Requires ongoing investment as your dog’s vocabulary grows, which can add up considerably
- Consistent training is needed for your dog to pick up the words being taught
Final Thoughts on Communication with Talking Buttons
Any dog (or cat) of any age can be taught to communicate using AAC. It allows dog parents to better understand their pups and respond to their requests. This not only improves their life experiences (imagine not being able to communicate what you want to someone), but it also allows you to strengthen your bond. This is also a great way to challenge your dog’s mind, providing much-needed mental enrichment.
To begin, choose a single word or two that best fits your dog’s lifestyle and desires. Introduce only 1 or 2 buttons at a time, focusing on modeling the word consistently throughout the day to help them understand the connection between the word and its meaning. As your dog’s vocabulary grows, you will discover new opportunities and other words they may benefit from learning. Before you know it, you’ll be understanding one another and having daily conversations.
Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.
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