Do's and Don'ts,
Tips and Tricks

People who have been successful with teaching their dogs to use buttons have recommended the following:

  • Avoid having a "treat" or "eat" button, as it can be *too* interesting.

  • Avoid trying too hard to teach individual words.

  • Take maximum advantage of the social and environment context, and let word use be "organic" and not too staged.

  • At the beginning, avoid training too many words at once.

  • Use words that have logical consequences and are part of a routine the dog already knows (going "outside" after mealtime or first thing in the morning; going for a "walk" at a specific time each day).

  • Don't start with words that make your dog excitable.

  • Don't force the dog to touch the button and read off of them if they are getting frustrated to ease up on the training. Do not grab their paw and have them push the button.

  • Give a lot of "wait time" when your dog is at the board of buttons.

  • Be consistent with responses. If the response is no, have a phrase or word you use every time.

  • Move through the stages with intention.

  • Avoid offering assistance before it's necessary. The dog needs to experience a level of stress in order to learn, so it's important to allow the dog time to problem-solve. At the same time, it's equally important not to let the dog get frustrated or he'll lose confidence and lose interest in the buttons altogether.

  • Understand which words are most relevant to your learner.

  • Avoid getting your learner overly excited while modeling or trying to encourage use.

  • Avoiding the having a treat or eat button depends on whether your dog is food motivated or not. For dogs who are not food motivated, such a button can be very appropriate.

  • Attach the buttons so they can't throw them around or become a toy.

  • Don't respond to other cues if you are trying to teach a certain word like OUTSIDE.

  • If your learner is looking like they want something from you, ask them to "use your words."

  • Avoid having buttons that sound like each other.

  • Model only one step beyond where your learner's fluency is, ie: if they are currently saying only one word at a time, model two-word sentences and so on.

  • For modeling abstract concepts, capturing the behavior has been most effective. ie: find a moment when they seem frustrated, take them to the board, model "Bunny" "mad." Likewise with "love you" etc...

  • Avoid going overboard at first.

  • Find something motivating. E.g., one person gave her dog "love you", and after trying that she went around pressing other buttons to find out what they were. This appeared to help her be more motivated to learn the individual buttons.

  • Be consistent (even when they don't get it at first!)

  • Write or draw the meaning of the word on the button (mostly for your use if they get reset by accident)

  • Explicitly model the words, but transition into encouraging them to press it on their own when they form meaning.

  • Be aware of what they might already be asking you. For example, if you have a dog who is whining because they want water, this is a great time to introduce WATER.

  • When accidentally pressing the wrong button, give them what the button says rather than you think they want.

  • Don't give up! Some dogs just take more time.

  • Avoid removing a button after having introduced it.

  • Once your learner starts to show understanding of what the buttons mean, use the buttons as much as possible when communicating with your learner. For example, if you ask your learner if they want to "play," press "want" and "play."