Christina Hunger is using her expertise as a speech-language pathologist to teach her dog Stella how to “talk” to humans.
Stella, who lives in San Diego with her owner, knows how to communicate 29 different words and even some sentences. She does so by pressing on a panel of buttons that are programmed to say individual words or phrases.
“She definitely says ‘outside’ the most. She absolutely loves being outside,” Hunger said in an interview with CNN.
In one video, when Stella heard noises outside that she was desperate to investigate, she repeatedly pushed the “Look” button, then “come” and “outside” to form this absolutely dog-like sentence: “Look, look, look, look, look, look, look, look, look! Come outside!”
Other phrases Stella uses include “Come play” and “Happy ball want outside!”
Hunger said she applies similar principles to Stella that she would on a child ― lots of time, repetition and practice. She began teaching her dog ― a blue heeler/Catahoula mix ― a little over a year and a half ago, when she noticed that Stella was already communicating with “gestures and vocalizations.” Hunger developed this skill by adding words, modeling and giving her dog opportunities to practice.
For example, if Stella was in an agitated state, Hunger would say the word “mad,” and repeatedly push the button for that word. She’d do the same for “happy” when Stella was in a good mood.
In one clip, Stella even communicates that she needs help when a button she pushed was not working:
For dog-lovers who are eager to communicate with their own pups, Hunger lists resources on her blog “Hunger for Words,” which documents her journey with Stella.
“First thing to do is talk to your pet,” she told CNN. “Notice how they’re already communicating and start putting words to those gestures or vocalizations that they’re using. Then you get the buttons and program them with those words, use them all the time, and show your pet how to use them as well.”