Do you ever wish that your dog could talk? That dream may be a lot closer than you think. Christina Hunger, a speech pathologist in San Diego has created a soundboard for her dog Stella that allows her to communicate with humans. What started out as a pet project could be a breakthrough to better understanding how dogs communicate with people. The device Hunger designed is a Vocal Output Communication Aid, a type of soundboard very similar to those used by people with disabilities.
Hunger works with young children with communicative issues and wondered if the same techniques could be used on her then 2-month-old Blue Heeler puppy. Hunger started by introducing a button that said “outside” and pressed it each time they opened the door for Stella. After some weeks Stella would look at the button every time she wanted out. Soon Stella began pressing the button to let her owners know.
Hunger introduced more buttons with basic commands like “eat,” “water,” “play,” “walk,” “no,” “come,” “help,” “bye,” and “love you” over time.
“Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly,” Hunger writes in her blog, “Stella’s voice and opinions matter just as our own do.”
The rate that Stella caught on to these commands is remarkable. She began combining words to create full sentences and express her feelings. When Stella noticed guests walking towards the door she pressed “bye”. When Hunger had to get ready for work Stella pressed “bye” and “no”, associating negative thoughts with the feeling.
So far Stella has learned 29 words total and can combine up to five together in a sentence. Hunger says that she has the communication skills of a 2-year-old child. On Hunger’s Instagram you can find amazing examples of Stella sharing short conversations with her owners.
Hunger hopes to revolutionize the bond between humans and dogs forever. You can find instructions on Hunger’s blog on how to communicate with your dog as well.