Categories: Teaching and Training-Published On: August 19, 2023-
Westie and pug look like talking dogs with words "if your small dog could talk..."

902 Words, 4 Minute Read for this article about talking dog buttons.

Small Bites Summary: Just the Overview

Long-haired chihuahua holding bone and looking down at text

  • “How Stella Learned to Talk” is an engaging book written by a speech pathologist who taught her dog to communicate through talking buttons.

  • You don’t have to use buttons to improve your relationship with your dog: talking to your dog like you would a human toddler and consistently narrating your actions can help you build a stronger bond.

  • You can enhance your dog’s attention and understanding by adopting a more enthusiastic and higher pitch when speaking to them.

  • Using talking buttons can deepen the understanding between dogs and humans. Buttons allow dogs to express their needs and desires more clearly, which can improve their well-being. However, challenges exist as well.

A Speech Pathologist’s Insight: Christina Hunger’s Journey with Talking Dog Buttons

A few months ago, I read How Stella Learned to Talk: The Groundbreaking Story of the World’s First Talking Dog. Okay, true confession: I listened to the book, as that’s the only way I can keep up with everything I need to/want to/should read.

How Stella Learned to Talk relates the story of Christina Hunger, a rather brilliant speech pathologist who realized her dog had the same pre-speech patterns as human babies and toddlers. She saw her dog using nonverbal communication and wondered if she could use the same speech techniques with her pup as she did with nonverbal toddlers.

So, she developed “speech buttons” Stella eventually learned to use. You’ve likely seen other dogs doing the same on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and every other social media outlet.

Book cover jacket for How Stella Learned to Talk. Mint green with picture of Stella on front. She is medium size with short, dark hair and a white patch on her chest.

How Do Dog Communication Buttons Work?

Imagine giving your small dog a voice, a way to tell you exactly what they’re thinking.

That’s the magic of talking dog buttons. These buttons are programmed with specific words or phrases—think “outside,” “play,” or “food.” When your dog presses a button, it plays the associated word aloud.

It’s not just a neat party trick; it’s a revolution in pet communication. As you consistently name your actions or objects and press the corresponding buttons, your dog associates the words with their meanings. Over time, they may start pressing the buttons independently, using them to communicate with you just as a toddler might.

It’s a simple concept, but the doors it opens to understanding your dog’s mind? Simply groundbreaking.

More Than Just Talk: Making Our Words Count with Talking Dog Techniques

Woman in red coat leaning down having conversation with her Shih Tzu

But my favorite takeaway from How Stella Learned to Talk? Even if we’re not interested in, or comfortable with, teaching our dogs to talk using talking dog buttons, we can easily power-up our bond with our dogs by:

  • naming what we’re doing or where we’re going,
  • repeating those words and phrases all the time,
  • and teaching our dogs our language like we’d do with our human toddlers.

Doing so jet fuels their understanding, their engagement with life, and improves communication.

Like me, you probably talk to your dogs all the time. But Christina’s work as a speech pathologist (and her description of its philosophies) showed me how I could take that talk and make it much more meaningful.

The Power of Talking Dog Buttons: An Intimate Connection

So now, for example, when I refill their water bowls (yes, bowls. They have three in various places in the house), I say “water? Want water girls?” as I pick up the dish, as I run the water, and as I set it back down.

With these minor shifts, I’ve already noticed Phoebe and Scout watch me and listen more intently. And yes, I now use a more enthusiastic and higher pitch, as science tells us that helps our talking dogs listen as well. (You can read the details on why we should use higher voices in this recent blog post: Are You Using The Right Dog Training Voice?)

Finding Closeness Through Communication

Smiling brunette woman in jeans and cream top sitting on grass holding standing white dog on her lap

Talking to our dogs in a more intentional and thoughtful way can significantly enhance our relationships with them. Whether or not you decide to try speech buttons, the simple act of talking to your dog as you would to a young child can make a big difference.

From Skeptic to Impressed: A Talking Dog Believer

I have to say I’ve been back and forth on these talking dog buttons. I stress about teaching our dogs to use them… and then what happens when we’re not at home to listen? Or what if people misuse them by taking the buttons away when they don’t like what they’re hearing from their talking dog?

But this book convinced me to try this with my girls. I THOUGHT I had the beginner button pack in the back of my closet, but apparently I lost it in the move. So, I’ve ordered the new tester set from Fluent Pet, and I’ll be trying them and reporting back here.

I picked Fluent Pet over others, as the company says their buttons are “made for learners of all sizes.” These talking dog buttons are apparently perfect for small dogs, as they require little pressure to use. But again, I’ll let you know.

Fluent Pet buttons with yellow and blue tile
Chihuahua using Fluent Pet button

Join the Canine Conversation!

Interested in trying this with your dog, or already have? Share your experiences in the comments below!

I’m starting with the toddler language development work. And, again, I highly recommend How Stella Learned to Talk. If you’ve used up your book budget, I know it’s at your local library. That’s where I found my audio copy.

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