By Tim Falk
Published: 06/23/2022, edited: 06/23/2022
Have you ever wondered just how amazing it would be if your dog could talk? If they could tell you how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and why they need to turn around 3 times before lying down?
Well, having a conversation with your dog could be a much more realistic proposition than you might think — and it’s all thanks to something known as dog buttons. So, how do dog buttons work, and how can you train your dog to use them? Let's take a closer look.
A dog button is essentially an electronic device that allows you to record words and sounds. Then when the button is pressed, it plays the pre-recorded sound.
The aim of dog buttons is to allow pets to “talk” to their humans. For example, if your dog wants to go for a walk, they press the button they know plays the word “walk” to communicate that desire to you.
Dog buttons are all the rage on TikTok and Instagram as people share
examples of their dogs “talking” by pressing buttons that play
pre-recorded sounds. Take Bunny the Sheepadoodle,
for example. This clever pup has over 1 million Instagram followers and
has learned over 100 words she can use to communicate with her humans
Of course, there are plenty of online videos of people living out every pet parent’s dream — seeing their dog press a button to say, “I love you.”
So if you want to make one-sided conversations with your dog a thing of the past, why not introduce them to button training? You can use buttons made specifically for dogs, or shop around to find any recordable buttons — they’re more affordable than you might think!
Buttons rely on the ability of dogs to learn and understand different words. In his book The Intelligence of Dogs, Dr Stanley Coren explains that the average dog can learn 165 words. But breeds known to be particularly intelligent, like Border Collies and Poodles, can learn as many as 250 words.
There’s also a growing body of research into the capacity of dogs to learn new words. In a study that tested the capacity of dogs to rapidly learn words, dogs were able to tell the difference between the names of 2 new toys after hearing the name of each toy just 4 times.
A separate study examined “Gifted Word Learner dogs” and taught those dogs the names of new toys through social interactions with their pet parents across a 1-week period. When they were tested 1 month later, 5 of the 6 dogs tested successfully remembered the names of 6 toys.
Then there’s the example of Chaser, a Border Collie described as the “smartest dog in the world.” Before she passed away in 2019, Chaser was able to identify over 1,000 toys by name.
But your dog’s ability to learn doesn’t just depend on their smarts; it’s also affected by your skills as a trainer. For example, we know that dogs’ brains don’t just process what we say but how we say it, so your tone of voice can influence your pup’s ability to learn words and commands.
Dogs are also quite adept at reading human body language to look for clues about what’s going to happen next. So if your body language is sending your dog a different message to the words you’re saying, this can really muddy the waters during the training process.
When you’re ready to get started, here are 8 training tips to help teach your dog to speak with buttons.
Which words should you use on your dog’s buttons? Before you choose, take some time to think about the words and commands your dog hears the most, such as “walk”, “outside”, or maybe the name of their favorite toy.
Using these words on your dog’s buttons will not only help your dog communicate about some of the most important things in their life, but it’ll also make it easier for your dog to understand how to use buttons. After all, if you choose words that your dog may already associate with certain items or actions, it should make training a whole lot smoother. And if the event linked to the button is an activity your dog loves, like going for a walk, they’ll likely learn even quicker.
The secret to teaching your dog to “talk” with buttons is positive reinforcement. Reward your dog for doing the right thing, and they’ll be much more likely to do the same thing again.
Treats and praise are important tools to have in the arsenal during button training. Use them to give your dog an instant reward for each successful step they take on their learning journey.
In the early stages of training, your main focus is on building associations between the word a button plays and what it represents. That’s why it’s a good idea to set each button up close to the item or activity associated with the sound.
For example, you might want to put the “outside” button right next to the door. That way your dog will link the sound with the action, and be instantly reinforced when they push the button to go outside and you open the door for them.
Once your dog has got the hang of using multiple buttons around the home, you can start to think about bringing all the buttons together in a convenient location.
Show your dog exactly what you want them to do by pushing the button yourself. For example, when you push the “outside” button before taking your dog out, you’re demonstrating to them the behavior you want them to do — and they should soon learn to copy your behavior.
However, if your pup is reluctant to engage with buttons, you can also work on target training — teaching them to touch a specific item with their paw — to focus their attention on the button.
Shaping is the process you can use to teach your dog to use buttons, and it essentially involves teaching a new behavior through a series of steps. The aim is to break the behavior down into smaller steps, teach those steps one at a time, then put them all together as the finished product.
You can start by rewarding your dog for pressing a button, then link the button to an event or item — for example, if training the “walk” button, you could cue them to press the button just as you pick up the lead to take them for a walk, then give them a reward.
You can then move on to training new words.
When you first introduce your dog to the concept of buttons, remember to take it one at a time. Start with something basic, like “toy” or “outside”. And make sure your dog masters this first button before you even think about moving on to another. Introducing an extra button at this early stage will be confusing for your dog, so let them get the hang of using a single button before you up the ante.
To really take your dog’s button skills to the next level, make sure you use them on a day-to-day basis. So if your pupper wants to go outside, wait for them to press the correct button before you let them out and give them a reward.
Regularly using buttons is a great way to boost your dog’s communication skills and reinforce this new behavior.
Finally, remember to keep button training sessions fun — after all, that’s exactly what training your dog to “speak” should be! So keep your sessions short, and remember to enjoy the chance to bond with your pup. Your fur-baby will relish the challenge of learning new words, but they’ll especially love the fact that it means spending lots of quality time with you.
Remember these simple training tips and before you know it, you could be “talking” with your dog just like Dr. Dolittle.
Need some help teaching your dog how to speak with buttons? Book a personalized training session with a 5-star dog trainer with Wag! today.
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