What happens when a curious speech-language pathologist is living with an equally curious puppy? You get a dog learning to speak, of course! And this isn't just another dog 'woofing' at the sight of a dog treat, either. Christina Hunger (26) taught Stella, her two-month-old Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, to use a soundboard and now the clever pup uses it to speak in sentences!
It all started when Hunger started wondering if her dog could use an AAC device to communicate with her. It seemed possible to the San Diego-based speech and language expert since the puppy already seemed to understand what she was saying.
Hunger began with a single button for "outside". Every time she or her fiancé Jake said "outside" or went to the door, they matched action to word by pressing the button. It only took Stella a few weeks to learn to associate the word with the button and she began looking at it every time she heard "outside". Pretty soon, Stella was stepping on the button whenever she wanted out.
Time to add more buttons!
Hunger began adding more buttons that corresponded with some of the pup's favorite activities. Words like eat, play, walk, and beach became part of Stella's regular vocabulary. Stella even learned the all-important concept of "love you'! According to Hunger, "Every day I spent time using Stella's buttons to talk with her and teach her words just as I would in speech therapy sessions with children."
Hunger, who works mainly with non-verbal toddlers who use adaptive devices to communicate, teaches Stella just as she would one of those toddlers. "Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly," she said
It didn't take Stella long to learn how to combine words into simple phrases. When her eating schedule was thrown off by the change to Daylight Savings Time, the confused dog began saying "eat" in the afternoon. When told it wasn't time yet, the hungry dog responded with "love you no" and stalked out of the room!
Communicating on a deeper level
This clever canine's vocabulary now consists of more than 29 words. She can also combine up to five of them at a time to create phrases or even short sentences. She uses her language appropriately, as when she says "bye" as her humans start putting on their jackets to leave. She even tapped out "Want. Jake. Come.' and "happy" when he came home one day!
Stella demonstrated the ability to communicate her thoughts and feelings clearly when her family cut short her fun at the beach to go home and fix dinner. The unhappy dog's response? "Water good. No eat. Play!"
If you are a speech-language pathologist looking for the chance to make a difference, contact us to learn about opportunities. We can't promise you a dog as smart as Stella, but we can help you find an opportunity to help others find their own unique voices.
To learn more about this and related topics, visit the Healthcare section of our blog.
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