Have you seen some amazing dogs on Instagram who use buttons to talk? Me too, and it is so amazing. I am an SLP that is passionate about AAC and supporting communication. Did you notice I said communicate and not talk? In a world where most of us communicate via speech, it is easy to think that talking = communicating. But there are so many different ways we can communicate with one another. Oh, I could write an entire post on the topic of non-verbal communication. But back to Chewie and his talker.

About a bit ago, I started the journey to teach Chewie to use buttons to communicate. Chewie is my labradoodle. He is currently almost two years old. I have been working with him since he was a puppy in the hopes that we will be a therapy dog team. We are almost there, so hopefully, I will post soon that he is a certified therapy dog.

How we got started:

I purchased some “recordable buttons” on Amazon.

This is an outline of teaching Chewie to communicate in our first month:

  1. Our first button: I started with one button, EAT.
    • Ok, so a note on this. The “eat” button was a bit of a mistake for us. Chewie loves treats and food, so while we get a ton of trials because he loves treats, I think he has learned that buttons = treat. So every button = treats/food. Because of this, it has made it harder to introduce other buttons. So my advice, start with another highly reinforcing item, but not their MOST reinforcing. I should have started with “scratches” or “open door.”
    • I used the touch command to practice touching the button.
    • I brought the treat close to the button and modeled pushing it with my hand. I also guided his paw to the button. I sat right beside him in the beginning with a treat handy.
    • He quickly figured out that he got a treat if he pushed the button.

2. Location: We started with the EAT button right under his treats. I then made a board and placed it near the treats. I saw some fantastic ideas online and decided to change the board. I will show pics later.

3. ADDING a SECOND BUTTON: OPEN DOOR – So Chewie loves to go sit out on our front porch. I felt this was a perfect opportunity to incorporate his second button.

    • I started OPEN DOOR on the board next to the eat button.
      • Chewie showed no differentiation between the two buttons.
      • I moved the OPEN DOOR button right next to the front door.
      • He quickly started using OPEN DOOR (90% accuracy) to request that I open the door so he could go out on the front porch (for fresh air and to bark at dogs walking by, we are working on extinguishing this behavior).
      • I decided to move the button back to the board, but he still struggles with differentiation between the two buttons. He knew the buttons did something but didn’t seem to understand that each button had a different meaning.
      • I moved the button halfway between the door and the board. He appeared to have 70% accuracy in this mid position.

So at this point, we have two buttons, eat and open door. One is by his treats and the other by the door. It cracks me up (kinda) when I hear him asking me to OPEN DOOR in the middle of the night.

I am reminded that we all learn at our own pace. Some of us learn things quickly with minimal practice, and others take many repetitions. So we are going to keep practicing and “Talking Back.”