If you're like us and have become addicted to watching cute animals on TikTok, you've likely come across multiple videos featuring dogs pushing on buttons, and then a voice announces what the dog wants - dinner, treats, to go for a walk, etc. Of course, after watching this, you're left thinking - how do those things work, and how do I teach my dog to use them?
What Are Pet Talk Buttons?
Dog talk buttons draw their inspiration from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices used by people with language and speech challenges. One example is pointing to various photos to express something you want or pointing out a particular word you want to say.
Pet talk buttons feature a similar concept, with sound boards featuring circular buttons that feature different words or images. When your dog steps on the button, it says the word using a pre-recorded voice. Depending on the system, it might light up when pressed (particularly useful if the pet parent is hard of hearing).
Some systems feature a set amount of commands, while others, like FluentPet talk buttons, are customizable. You can create a soundboard catered to the words and commands you want to teach your dog.
How Do Dogs Use Talk Buttons?
Every dog is different, and some are faster learners than others. You likely have already taught your pup basic commands like sit, stay, and come. Dogs have an impressive ability to learn a large number of words and build a reasonable vocabulary. (For example, the border collie Chaser not only knows tons of words but can understand syntax and semantics.)
Talk buttons typically feature a series of boards that connect together and are color-coded to arrange various commands by category. For example, objects on one panel, actions on another, social phrases together, etc. This organized setup strives to make it easier for your pup (and you) to remember where things are.
When your dog wants something, they press the button to let you know. For example, if they want to go for a walk, they push the button that says “walk.” When they’re ready to play, they push the button that says “toy.”
Can Any Dog Use Talk Buttons?
Technically, you can train any dog to use the buttons. It’s similar to teaching a dog how to grab their leash when they’re ready for a walk or ring a bell when they need to go outside. But how many buttons your dog learns and how consistently they perform depends on them, and the teaching.
Also, although the buttons are commonly associated with dogs, even cats communicate with pet talk buttons when given the proper training. So how exactly do you teach Fido to use this innovative and curious communication system?
Teaching Your Pup to Use Dog Talk Buttons
Any time you train your dog, it’s essential to stay consistent, positive, and calm. These same qualities are also necessary when teaching your dog to use pet talk buttons. Another helpful tip is to pay attention to the words you use the most with your pup. These are the words you’ll want to assign to the buttons.
For example, imagine you want to have a button for outside, but you always say backyard. Then it makes more sense to have a backyard button. Once you pinpoint the words you want to use, make sure you say them to your pet often.
Modeling is also a big part of teaching your pup how to use this system. In other words, you use them to show your dog how they work. For example, you say “backyard,” press the appropriate button, then go outside. Repeat over and over to help teach your dog the association.
1. Take Things Slow
Start with modeling one of the buttons. Stick with the same button until your pup starts to get the idea. This could take some time, and that’s okay. In the beginning, it could take a while to get your pup to even acknowledge the buttons exist.
2. Create a Designated Space for the Talk Buttons
Decide where you plan to keep the talk buttons and leave them in that spot. Ideally, choose a centralized location in your home or the area your dog spends the most time. Avoid moving the buttons around as this could confuse your pup.
3. Stay Observant
Remember your dog has an excellent communication system already between their vocalizations and body language. When you start teaching them to use the talk buttons, don’t forget to pay attention to the other ways your pup speaks to you. Think of the buttons as merely an additional communication tool, not as a replacement.
4. Let Your Dog Push the Buttons
When training your dog to sit, it’s advised to never push down on their rear to force the sitting position. The same concept applies to the sound board. Don’t pick up your dog’s paw and force them to push the buttons. Fido needs to do it on their own.
5. Use Lots of Positive Reinforcement
Get lots of tasty treats to make the process fun and rewarding for your dog. When you first introduce your dog to the buttons, give them a treat and lots of praise whenever they show any interest. Even a quick, inquisitive sniff deserves a treat.
As your dog starts to pay more attention to the buttons, keep up the praise. It’s all about creating positive associations and keeping the whole process upbeat and fun.
6. Expect It to Take a While
Don’t embark on this adventure expecting it to stick within a few days (or even weeks). It could take weeks for your dog to even realize the buttons exist. Going into the process with the expectation that it could take a while will help keep frustration at bay.
7. Start Simple
Even if the communication system you choose offers tons of buttons, only use one to three at first. Don’t overwhelm your pup. Also, make the first couple of buttons words your dog already knows well. For example, you might start with “treat,” “outside,” and “walk.”
8. React Quickly
When your dog uses a button, be alert and ready to respond immediately to reinforce the association. So if your dog presses the treat button, give them a treat right away. When they press the outside button, beeline to the backdoor and let them go out.
Common Things To Teach Your Dog
Not sure what to put on your dog talk buttons? Stick with the basics at first and go with things your dog already knows. Some examples are:
- Love You
- Names of people or other pets
As fun as talk buttons are, don’t forget basic training with your dog. Teaching your dog the basics lays a good foundation for future training, and you can tie it into using the buttons.
For example, if your dog pushes the “food” button, have them sit while you fill their food dish. Then you don’t have to worry about an excited, bouncy dog spilling their food everywhere.
(Incidentally, if you’re living with a messy eater, then make sure to check out the Neater Feeder.) You might even find that over time, your dog presses the button and immediately sits, waiting for you to deliver their meal.
Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?
What pet parent wouldn’t want to be able to have a conversation with their pup? Pet talk buttons could be a way to make that possible, but they’re still fairly new, meaning there’s still lots to learn. But with these helpful tips, you could have a lot of fun teaching your canine companion how to use the buttons to communicate with you.
If you struggle with training your dog, consider working with a pro. Reach out to friends or family or your vet to find a reputable dog trainer. You can also find useful tips about training and more on the Neater Pets blog. Do you think your dog would use talk buttons? Let us know what words would definitely end up on your pup’s board.