Choosing your buttons
We recommend getting started by ordering a kit from FluentPet! They've developed specialized buttons and matching tiles to make setting everything up as easy as possible, and to maximize the probability of success with your learner.
Note: You do not need to use FluentPet buttons to participate in our animal language learning study. Any voice buttons will do for the purpose of our research. However, unlike other voice buttons, FluentPet's were specifically designed for use by household pets—small and durable enough to accommodate chatty learners with ever expanding vocabularies, while minimizing the space taken up in your home.
Keeping the goal in mind
What makes all of this possible is that dogs pay us very close attention, can recognize the words we use, can press buttons, and (it seems) can recognize the sounds that the buttons produce.
What you're trying to do is create a strong association in your dog or cat's mind between two things:
particular activities or things that matter to your learner and
particular buttons that, when pressed, make the sound of a word that corresponds to those particular activities or things
Creating a helpful learning environment
Here are three steps based on those that Christina Hunger recommends:
- Make sure you're talking to your learner all the time
We know that dogs are able to understand the meanings of different words. The late Professor John Pilley's dog Chaser could understand the meanings of more than 1000 words, including simple verbs.
When you're modeling a word, you want to use it repeatedly, in context, without adding different conjugations. So if you're trying to model PLAY, then when you're about to play with your learner, say "Do you want to play? Okay let's play! Play, play, play!"
You want the phrases you use to be simple, clear, and easy to understand. Avoid speaking quickly. You will want to repeat your learner's words frequently immediately before and during the action that they correspond to.
2. Pay close attention to the words you're using
The best words to start with are those that refer to things your learner cares about. Watch the way you speak about things, and notice if there are particular ways that you are already referring to objects or activities that matter to them. Do you say "treat" or "cookie"? Do you say "eat" or "hungry"? Do you say "play" or "have fun"? Figure out which it is that you use more, and that your dog or cat seems to recognize, and use that one exclusively. This will be the word you end up recording into one of your buttons.
3. Model: use their buttons!
Dogs and cats can learn by watching, also known as mimicry. When you're working to model a new word or concept for your learner, say the word, then press the button it corresponds to. This routine of saying a word or phrase, pressing the corresponding button or buttons, and then either directing your learner's attention to an object ("ball!") or engaging in the action you've just described, is called modeling. Speech language pathologists call this Aided Language Input.
We also recommend checking out the FluentPet Button Teaching Curriculum, and joining the How.TheyCanTalk.org community to connect with other button teachers from around the world.