Thursday, 16 April 2020

Amazing work of a US speech expert who has taught her dog to ‘talk’

Christina Hunger is a US-based speech-language pathologist who is using her expertise to better understand her dog’s needs, with amazing results.

Using a device usually used with children who aren’t able to functionally communicate via verbal speech, it provides a soundboard with icons representing different words, which are said out loud when pushed. Christina introduced the board to her Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, Stella, and with patience and training saw an incredible result.

Starting with the button for ‘outside’, Christina pressed this before opening the door each time the pair were going out. Within a few weeks Stella was aware of what was happening, looking at the button in expectation, and soon afterwards she pressed herself.  Her vocabulary grew to include more words, such as eat, water, play, walk, no, come, help, bye and love you.

          Stella with her button board for communication © photo courtesy of Christina Hunger

Christina worked with Stella every day, and instead of rewarding her with a treat for using a button, she acknowledged Stella’s communication and responded accordingly. “Stella’s voice and opinions matter just as our own do” she said.

Over time Stella has learned to communicate in increasingly sophisticated ways, by joining up words together to express herself. Moving from “no” if she didn’t want to do something, to “come” if she wanted Christina to follow her to another room, and even saying ‘bye’ to visitors as they were leaving! Two-word phrases used by Stella include “walk no” if she wasn’t taken for a walk, “eat play” for her toy filled with food. When she was not fed after repeatedly asking for her food, Stella was most disapproving: ‘love you no’ she told Christina!

Demonstrating Stella’s remarkable grasp of words shouldn’t be a surprise, as research has shown that a canine’s cognitive ability equates with a two-year-old child, with an understanding of between 165-250 words.

I’m sure many of us would love to know more about what our animal companions are really thinking, even though we think we know them very well!

Follow Christina and Stella at :

Thanks to Christina and to Chronicle - The APDT Chronicle of the Dog magazine

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