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What Are Dog Buttons, And How Do We Use Them?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Doodle barking

If you ever wanted your dog to talk, your dream could come true. The technology is here! The FOTP team has been learning how to train our dogs to “speak” using dog buttons… 

What Are Dog Buttons?

Dog buttons are large push-buttons which are laid out on the floor. They’re designed for dogs to press with a paw. Each button usually has a distinct color or symbol. Owners record a word for each button. The dog learns to associate that button with the corresponding word (like “out”, “food”, or “play”). You can build up the system to include many more buttons. 

Stella is a Blue Heeler/ Catahoula mix who has learned to use buttons to express her feelings and communicate basic wants and needs from her owner. 

In 2022, speech & language professional Christine Hunger published How Stella Learned to Talk, describing how she trained her dog to use 30 speech buttons. Christine has years of experience working with young children, which contributed to the methods she used to teach Stella. She believes that she is the first person to train a ‘speaking’ dog. 

Alexis Devine’s dog Bunny is a Sheepadoodle who has gained internet fame for ‘talking’ through dog buttons! She uses a complex system of buttons which allow her to express different wants and feelings. Watch the video above to learn how Bunny told her owner she had a foxtail stuck between her toes. 

In the last couple of years, thousands more people have joined the trend on social media, posting videos using the hashtag #dogbuttons. It’s become a global trend. 

Do Dog Buttons Really Work?

There’s plenty of evidence that dogs can learn to recognise dozens or even hundreds of human words. Does your dog jump off the couch when you mention the prospect of a “walk” – or follow you into the kitchen because you said you were making “dinner”?  It’s likely that your dog already has an impressive vocabulary. 

Now dogs can be trained to push buttons to ‘ask’ for things that they want. Some dogs start by pushing buttons near the back door when they want to go out into the yard. It makes sense: instead of barking or scratching, they are trained in making a different sound. In a similar way, dogs can be taught that pressing a certain button (“food” or “love”) will lead to receiving their meal, or being petted.

But are they really learning our language? 

There are many people who believe that dogs are learning to express their feelings through human language. Owners describe their dogs pushing buttons to announce when they are “sad”, “mad”, or “frustrated”. Many people say that using dog buttons has deepened their relationships. 

There are others who believe that the dogs are learning association, not meaning. They think that dogs are just using buttons to get things they want. They argue that we would never reach a point when dogs are able to build complex sentences and hold discussions with us. 

Conclusion? There’s not yet enough research to determine exactly how dogs interpret the verbal cues triggered by buttons. But we do know that dog buttons can enable our pets to communicate their needs. There’s the exciting prospect that dogs could one day use buttons to tell us about their health symptoms. And we’re here for it!

Training Your Dog to Use Dog Buttons

Do you want to give dog buttons a try?  You can buy a starter kit of 4 colored buttons for around $19. 

Before you assign any words to your buttons, consider this: To make this training effective, when your dog presses a button, you will have to meet their demands, at least during the learning period. 

That means if they press “car”, you’ll have to take them out to the car. When they press “outside”, you’ll have to let them out. “Food” should result in something edible. 

And you need to be prepared to meet every request to reinforce this training. 

If you have a dog with an insatiable appetite, what will stop them from pressing “food” over and over again?  What about a dog who loves tummy-rubs? You could wind up in a hostage situation (or totally out of food). 

Start savvy. Start with simple requests which are manageable for you and useful for the dog. Trainer Christine Hunger advises choosing the words that you already use and perhaps your dog already recognises. That could include words such as: 

  • Outside (to go out in the yard)
  • Toy (for playtime)
  • Thirsty
  • Walk

Next you’ll start modeling button-pushing, pressing the appropriate button when you’re ready to let your dog outside, play with their toy, or go out for a walk. 

Your dog’s curiosity will prompt them to try pressing the button themselves. Be ready with the right response as soon as they make the sound!

Further Reading

While you’re exploring your dog’s potential, read about Positive Reinforcement Techniques/learn/dog-training/positive-reinforcement-training-for-dogs, and try these Indoor Games to play with your dog/learn/dog-training/indoor-games-to-play-with-your-dog. If your dog needs more stimulation and activities, check out Useful Jobs to Give your Dog/learn/dog-training/what-jobs-can-i-give-my-dog!