Can Dogs Learn to Talk?

20 May 2021

We all talk to our dogs but have you ever wondered if you could teach your dog to talk back?

Dogs most definitely communicate with us and they do this through body language and vocalisations to tell us how they feel, or what they want. Dogs can certainly understand lots of human words but the way your dog communicates and responds when you speak to them is not the same as being able to ‘talk’ – even though it sometimes seems like they’re talking to us!

Teaching your dog to ‘talk’ may not be as far-fetched as it seems though. Two dog owners in the US are teaching their dogs to speak using augmentative and alternative communication devices, which are tools that are typically used to help people with verbal speech deficits communicate.

Stella and Bunny are two examples of dogs who are learning to ‘talk’ using non-verbal techniques, and have become internet sensations in the process!


Example 1: Stella

Stella has her own Instagram page and is the star of a book, How Stella Learned to Talk. Stella’s owner Christina Hunger, a speech pathologist who works with children, wrote the book about how she taught Stella to communicate using simple paw-sized buttons associated with different words. When Stella paws at the buttons they activate the pre-recorded words.

Christina believes that dogs, just like humans, should have the opportunity to say words, just in a different way using non-verbal speech. The book reveals the techniques that Christina used to teach Stella, broken down into actionable steps any dog owner can use to start communicating with their pets.

Below is a video of Stella in action:


Example 2: Bunny

At just 11 months old, Bunny the Sheepadoodle could already use more than 40 words to express her needs and wants to her family.

Bunny is also an internet sensation, with over 5 million followers on TikTok.

Inspired by Christina’s work with Stella, Bunny’s owner, Alexis Devine, has also been teaching Bunny to speak using a board full of buttons with words pre-recorded on them. Bunny’s board is continually expanding and now has buttons for more than 70 words.

Bunny is now the subject of a research study, along with other dogs like her who are learning to use the buttons. They hope to determine scientifically whether non-humans can really use something like language to communicate.

Below is a video of Bunny using her buttons to communicate with Alexis:


While it’s too early for science to know yet whether dogs are participating in language when they use buttons like Stella and Bunny do, one thing is for sure: The activity is a great way to stimulate your dog’s brain, and provides a way to bond and learn alongside your canine friend.

Even if you don’t feel the need to teach your dog to ‘talk’, as a loving pet owner, it is important to learn the language of your dog. It will make your dog safer, happier and more confident, as well as make your relationship better if you can learn the signals of your dog.

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