A Guide to Dogs that “Talk” Using Dog Communicator Buttons

10 minute read By Lucy Hughes
Reviewed by: Pawrade Team
February 08, 2024

Words for "Woof" in different languages float above a red Cocker Spaniel.

“SCOOORE! Did you just see that hat trick? Look how the puck sailed in!” 

Your friend seems happy as well and does a little dance in excitement. 

“Would you want to go to the next game with me? Oh, wait – you can’t. That’s such a bummer.” 

He sits down and gives you a doleful look that reads, “That’s okay, maybe one day I’ll be able to go with you to an NHL hockey game.” 

“Well, let’s order some FOOD tonight as a TREAT!”

With these words, your friend starts going crazy, running in circles, pawing at you, and barking at you! You must have said the magic words!

In case you haven’t guessed, we’re talking about canine friends instead of human friends. Our dogs are our best friends. We would move heaven and earth for them to be happy. 

Don’t you wish your dog could talk to you? Of course you do – we all do! If your puppy could talk, what do you think your puppy would say to you? What would their voice sound like? We are even guilty of pretending like our dog is talking in a particular voice or accent. Alexandra Horowitz is a Barnard College psychology professor and author of several best-selling books on dog cognition who stated,“It is an ongoing fantasy that they [dogs] a) understand us, and b) could reply back or initiate conversations. Though dogs are talking to us all the time — with their body postures, their expressions, their behaviors — we humans are still most compelled by the sound of our own voices.”

While your dog isn’t going to ask you about your day soon and chime in with advice on the latest office gossip, what if your pooch could communicate with you via talking word buttons for dogs?

Let’s examine how dogs communicate with humans, learn about dog communicator buttons, and see where the future will take us regarding dog-human communication methods. 

How Dogs Get Their Owners’ Attention

Do your friends bark and paw at you? Hopefully not of the 2-legged variety, but our 4-legged friends have a few ways to try and get our attention. Since the early domestication of dogs, responding to humans’ social cues, words, and tone of voice have influenced their ability to effectively communicate with us. 

Dogs communicate with humans through canine body language and vocalizations. Our dogs tell us it’s dinner time, when they want to play, snuggle, go to the bathroom, or when something is amiss, even if it’s the neighbor doing yard work. To get your attention, they may: 

  • Paw at you
  • Stare at you
  • Mouth/chew/nip on your clothes or a limb
  • Jump up on you
  • Rest their head or put their bodies on you
  • Vocalize (whine, bark, cry, whimper, or “talk”)

It’s up to you to form a strong bond with your dog so you can interpret what each movement and sound means and act accordingly. The more time you spend with your puppy, the better you will be able to identify their needs and wants. 

@fluentpet Don't have a New Year's resolution yet? How about teaching your dog how to "talk"? Here are some resources and tips from @thechattylab #NewYear #AIC ♬ original sound - FluentPet

Dog Communication Buttons: Where to Start

Talking dog buttons help puppy owners better understand their dogs’ intentions when communicating with humans. Dog buttons are based on pre-recorded buttons used in alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices that allow non-verbal people a way to communicate. They affix to a non-slip mat that often connects to other mats, creating a wide range of buttons arranged in categories a dog can learn to push. Pet owners record a word or phrase, show their dog how to use the buttons, and reinforce learning. 

People wanting to teach their dogs to talk typically start with a beginner’s pack including a set of words for your dog to learn when using dog communication buttons. Categories often include descriptors, social, objects, places, actions, and subjects.

You may wonder which words to start with when teaching those first words for dog buttons. In addition to your button company’s recommendations, we can turn to research to see what dogs like when getting started with how to teach your dog to talk using word buttons.

A study conducted by OnBuy to determine words and phrases dogs love the most sheds light on which words you can begin to teach your puppy to operate buttons with success. First, a survey was sent to 4,389 pet owners in the UK asking about their dogs’ favorite phrases. Next, from a compiled list of the top answers, researchers then noted the reaction to these words. Lastly, they monitored the heart rate of 60 dogs of various breeds to see which words exceeded 115 bpm to indicate significant excitement. The highest word receiving a response of 156 bpm was “Walkies,” followed by “dinner/food/eat,” “treat,” “get it,” and “fetch.” 

How many words are dogs capable of learning? 

Seeing that a starter pack of talking dog buttons contains 6-12 buttons, you may wonder how many words a dog is capable of learning. The answer may surprise you! 

To understand where a dog lies on the spectrum of word knowledge, it’s helpful to know milestones in children’s acquisition of language to understand how impressive a dog’s number can be. According to research, at age one, children recognize about 50 words by age 1, 300 by age 2, and about 1,000 words by their third birthday. So how does this compare to a dog’s ability to appropriately respond to human language? 

Since the earliest study published in the late 1920s, scientists have been fascinated by the development of language in dogs. While we think all dogs are special, there are a few canines ahead of the pack in their ability to identify more words than the average dog. You may take inspiration from these exceptional dogs who have learned to communicate with humans beyond a regular pet’s current abilities. Some were studied scientifically, and others were taught in a non-research setting. Regardless of how they were taught, the results are nothing short of remarkable. Researchers Reeve and Jacque (2022) summarize famous dogs in word recognition research that have paved the way for scientists to study further: 

  • Fellow the German Shepherd (1928): The first published animal language study began with Fellow the German Shepherd. Warden and Warner taught Fellow 68 phrases and words, including “Go outside and wait for me” and “Crawl under the table.” 

  • Rico the Border Collie (2004): Kaminski et al. studied fast mapping in dogs, when a dog can guess the meaning of a new word after a single exposure. They found Rico the Border Collie could recognize over 200 words and then made guesses as to what new words could mean based on his knowledge. Not only did Rico correctly retrieve the new items, but he could also repeat the experiment after 4 weeks. 

  • Chaser the Border Collie (2011): Often called the World’s Smartest Dog, Chaser the Border Collie paved the way for scientists to understand how dogs learn language. John Pilley, a retired Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Wofford College, and his research team trained Chaser to recognize words and simple sentences up to 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 years starting around 4-5 months old. The results astounded everyone when they determined that Chaser had learned to recognize 1,022 toys, identifying them correctly 95% of the time. Not only could Chaser recognize individual words, but he could also tell the difference between common nouns and verbs 

  • Bailey the Yorkshire Terrier (2012): Researchers Griebel and Oller took Rico’s experiment results and expanded upon them with Bailey the 12-year-old Yorkshire Terrier to see if the results could be repeated in a companion lap dog rather than an active working dog. Bailey was taught a set of 117 toys over her 12 years with her family. First, Bailey’s owner asked her to retrieve random ones from the 117 words. Next, researchers used a male and female voice with different accents to see if this would confuse Bailey, but she had the same positive results. Lastly, Bailey was asked just like Rico to guess new objects based on her prior knowledge. Bailey did not recall as many as Rico or Chaser with the conclusion citing factors in the differences between a formal research setting and a casual learning environment, her allergy to grass, and the adage “You can’t teach a dog new tricks.” Despite the results, researchers were pleased with Bailey identifying 117 objects.  

Famous “Talking” Dogs on Social Media 

The advent of social media made it possible to showcase people’s interests and opened up the kennel doors to a world of possibilities using talking dog buttons. Here are a few examples of talking dog button stars out of the hundreds (or even thousands) of accounts documenting the journey. 

Stella

One of the pioneers in the field of soundboard Augmentative Interspecies Communication (AIC) Devices (commonly called talking dog buttons) is Christine Hunger. Hunger is a Speech Language Pathologist who taught her dog Stella, her Catahoula Leopard Dog/Blue Heeler mix, to “talk” and wrote a best-selling book about her experiences. Stella was one of the first “talking dogs” to go viral on social media, and she had plenty of skeptics along the way. As more research is being conducted, Stella paved the way to spur interest in animal cognition research along with the rise in popularity of dog communication buttons.

Bunny the Sheepadoodle

Bunny is a Sheepadoodle who has gained a huge following across social media channels and has appeared on several TV shows and in articles thanks to her uncanny ability to use her FluentPet system. FluentPet is a type of augmentative interspecies communication that uses recorded buttons to enrich the lives of dogs and strengthen the bond they have with us. The company has several thorough guides on getting started and explains ways to utilize the system. 

Researchers took an interest in Bunny, who is participating in a scientific study called TheyCanTalk at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers conduct “a rigorous scientific approach to determine whether, and if so, how and how much non-humans can express themselves in language-like ways.” Bunny’s results will no doubt help further research on canine communication and language acquisition. 

Speak With a Pawrade Puppy Every Day 

Now that you’ve learned all about training your dog to talk to you using word buttons, you’ve just got one more bridge to cross – you need a puppy! 

At Pawrade, you speak to real humans throughout your entire adoption journey. Our Puppy Concierge team will answer all your questions and handle your transaction securely so all you have to worry about is which color coat and matching collar to buy your puppy for sale

We also speak up for puppies for sale by only partnering with dog breeders who pass our rigorous selection process, as not everyone meets or exceeds our standards. We abhor puppy mills and actively fight against them with our No Puppy Mill Pledge. A sharp contrast from living in squalor and not receiving health care, all of our puppies are raised in clean, sanitary conditions with loving breeders who know the ins and outs of their particular breed to deliver the best care possible. Pawrade puppies for sale come with health records, a 3-year health guarantee, 30 Days of MetLife insurance, and peace of mind knowing you are not supporting puppy mills accidentally. 

Contact us today to speak with a member of our Puppy Concierge team so you can tell your new puppy how much you love them! Browse our puppies for sale while thinking of the first thing you’d whisper in their little floppy ear. 




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Lucy Hughes

Lucy Hughes has been teaching and writing professionally for half her life. She has a passion for helping people choose a puppy and lead an exciting life with their new furry companion. She enjoys spending quality time with her family and her beloved Golden Retriever, Bowie.

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