(TMU) — For dog parents and owners, it’s always been clear that their pets try to communicate with them—even if they lack the vocalizing skills and abilities we humans enjoy and understand.
But usually it’s up to us to figure out exactly what’s on their minds—whether it’s a change of diet, a new rawhide chew, a need to take a nap, or maybe they’re just pondering how much they love us.
But for speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger, 26, mere guessing about what her 18-month-old dog Stella was thinking simply wouldn’t suffice. She wanted her dog to actually speak using words, and even basic sentences.
So Hunger—who has long had a passion for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices—devised a unique way for her Catahoula/Blue Heeler to “talk” using a brilliant soundboard that allows her dog to communicate using human speech, People reports.
The San Diegan set up a button board when Stella was only 8 weeks old that allowed the pup to tap out exactly what she wants, with each button corresponding to a different word such as “want,” “beach,” “happy,” “ball,” and “come.”
The device has been such a success that the 50-pound dog now knows about 29 words and can even string them together to make phrases and sentences.
One button even plays a recording of the name “Jake,” which signals that the dog wants attention from Hunger’s fiancé. So when Stella taps out the words “want,” “Jake,” and “come,” she will stand at the door until Jake arrives before pressing the “Happy” button and rolling over for a belly rub.
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Yesterday evening Stella whined in front of the door and started pacing back and forth. A reasonable assumption would’ve been that she had to go outside. BUT…Stella walked to her device and said, “Want Jake come” then stood in front of the door again 😭😭 When Jake came home just a few minutes later, Stella immediately said “happy” and rolled over for a belly rub 🐶 • Stella always surprises us with what she knows and what she is thinking about at that time! If Stella didn’t have an AAC device, I would’ve wrongly assumed she wanted to go outside. Really, she just wanted Jake to come home ❤️ • • • • • #hunger4words #talkingdog #everyonedeservesavoice #speechtherapy #AAC #slp #corewords #SLPeeps #earlyintervention #languagedevelopment #dogsofinstagram #dogmom #dogs #animalpsychology #doglover #sandiegodog #catahoula #blueheeler #smartdog #dogcommunication #mydogtalks #SLPdog #dognition #animalcommunication #interspeciescommunication #loveanimals #respectanimals
In a caption for a video Hunger posted on her Instagram, she explained:
“Stella often tells us a two-step sequence of what she wants to do.”
“This morning Stella told us ‘Come eat play’,” she added, noting that the dog was conveying that she first wanted to eat before going to play.
Hunger told People:
“I’m in constant amazement and shock.
Every day she says something cooler than she said the day before.”
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Stella often tells us a two-step sequence of what she wants to do! For example, some mornings she wants to eat right away then go outside, other times she wants to go outside first then come back and eat. This morning Stella told us “Come eat play.” Swipe to see what she said when she finished eating and I was still on the couch drinking my coffee instead of getting ready to go play 😳 • • • • • #hunger4words #talkingdog #everyonedeservesavoice #speechtherapy #AAC #slp #corewords #SLPeeps #slpsofinstagram #slp2be #earlyintervention #languagedevelopment #dogsofinstagram #dogmom #dogs #animalpsychology #doglover #sandiegodog #catahoula #blueheeler #smartdog #dogcommunication #mydogtalks #SLPdog #dognition #animalcommunication #interspeciescommunication #loveanimals #respectanimals
Hunger, who works in San Diego with children aged 1 to 2, already had experience with adaptive devices that help children communicate the basics—but Stella’s advances have been absolutely amazing in terms of similarity to baby humans. Hunger has been documenting Stella’s progress on her Instagram and her blog, Hunger For Words.
“The way she uses words to communicate and the words she’s combining is really similar to a 2-year-old child.”
Stella has also been enthusiastic about her ability to clearly communicate her thoughts. Hunger recounts that when the pooch learned how to communicate the word “walk,” she used it over and over again—a clear sign that Stella wanted to say it. Hunger remarked:
“I didn’t realize how much she was waiting to say it.”
Another word that delights Stella is “beach,” which makes her “so happy” when she uses it. Hunger says that Stella “still says it very often.”
Hunger hopes that her method can be used to enrich Stella’s vocabulary and can even teach other dogs how to speak. She added:
“I think how important dogs are to their humans.
I just imagine how much deeper the bond will be.”
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Jake and I have been modeling the words “look” and “all done” a lot over the past few days, and it has paid off! Stella used both words on her own this morning. After saying “look outside” and looking around the apartment, Stella told us she was “all done” and ready for the “park outside.” It’s truly amazing that Stella has the power to tell us when she’s finished with an activity and ready for something else 💫 • • • • • • #hunger4words #talkingdog #speechtherapy #AAC #slp #corewords #ashaigers #SLPeeps #dogsofinstagram #dogmom #dogs #talkingdogs #animalpsychology #doglover #sandiegodog #sandiegodogs #catahoula #blueheeler #smartdog #dogcommunication #mydogtalks #netflixdogstory #interspeciescommunication