Phase 1 Participation

TheyCanTalk Research Phase 1: Initial Data Collection

In Phase 1, we begin the process of collecting basic information about learners and their learning context in conjunction with regular logging of instances of dog word button use. The data we're collecting here will let us understand how age, breed, sex, teaching technique, teaching speed, and vocabulary choice affect button learning.

In this stage, regular logging of button use is our primary method of studying learner progress. As such, if you're participating in this research, we'll be relying entirely on you to submit updates describing when, and in what context, your learner pressed buttons.

More specifically, we're looking to collect 6 months or more of data from each participant to better assess both their learning abilities and how their use of the buttons might change over time once their vocabulary increases.

Our primary data gathering tools are button annotator updates (occasional) and progress reports (every two weeks).

Your data submissions through these tools will provide key information toward specifying which linguistic and communicative phenomena to focus on in the development and analysis of the data that will be collected for Phase 2 (video recordings) and Phase 3 (experiments) from those we invite to participate in those phases.

Ultimately, we're interested in how your learner(s) learn, how they communicate, and what their behavior tells us about their cognitive abilities and emotional life.

All of the information you provide will help us get one step closer to a richer and more meaningful understanding of animals’ minds, and all of your responses will be sent to you for your own records.

We will also be providing ways for you to use this data to be able to see your learner's progress over time, as well as how your learner compares to others. This is information that can provide you with valuable insights on how to improve or accelerate your learner's progress.

Thank you for participating!

Step 1: Complete Comprehensive Intake Survey

To participate, the first step is to fill out a comprehensive intake questionnaire for each learner you'd like to enroll.

This intake questionnaire helps us learn about:

  • You, your background, and your expectations

  • Your learner's temperament, physical characteristics, household environment, and routines

  • Your learner's degree of familiarity with a range of words and concepts (prior to starting button-training)

After completing this questionnaire, we'll generate a unique participant ID for your learner and invite you to join and participate in the research and discussion occurring on our collaborative science forum.

Step 2: Prep your learner's vocabulary and soundboard

Once we've processed your completed intake questionnaire, we'll send you an invitation to join our collaborative science forum.

This invitation will come from a domain (the platform our forum is hosted on) and contain your learner's unique participant ID, which we'll use to track your learner's growth and progress across tools throughout the study.

Familiarize yourself with

  • Complete your bio, and set a photo of you and your learner as your avatar

  • Update your username to include both your name and your learner's name

  • Introduce yourself to the community 👋

  • Read the Research Summary to get a better idea of what this project is all about

  • Check the Location 🌍 space to find other teachers and learners near you!

Determine which word(s) you want to add first, using our Getting Started guides, suggested order of introduction, and the Vocabulary Chart from the Hunger for Words website.

You will also need to acquire buttons, which we do not provide for this study, but you are not required to use specific buttons to participate. Most learners are using either FluentPet buttons & HexTiles or Learning Resources buttons, but any voice buttons will do!

If you've already done everything here, move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Submit your annotated soundboard

A "soundboard" is your button or collection of buttons. If you have one button, you have a soundboard, regardless of whether you have tiles or anything else to place them on. If your buttons are spread throughout your home, you can still complete this task, and in fact it would be helpful to our research to see their various placements.

Knowing the layout of your learner's button setup will help us answer many core research/design questions. For example, the list of sounds/concepts/date of introduction will allow us to determine whether some concepts are easier to learn. The layout of the buttons is of particular importance since it will allow us to study whether some layouts are easier to use and master. The layout will also allow us to determine how intentional your learner's multi button presses are. By the end of the study we hope to derive some insights and tips about button layouts you can use with your learner.

Some tips for performing this task:

  • The tool works best with a computer mouse, so we suggest not submitting from your phone

  • Photos should be taken from an aerial view so that we can see the face of your buttons with their respective labels (or other contextual cues)

  • Try and capture a photo with as many buttons in at as possible, since you can only upload one photo to the tool per submission.

  • There’s currently no way to save your progress for this specific task so, especially if you have a lot of buttons, we suggest doing this when you have a window of uninterrupted time.

  • Make sure you’ve added all of your current buttons before hitting Submit since, again, you will not be able to save your progress or edit your board once you submit it

  • If you can’t remember exactly when you introduced a button, no worries, just enter the first day of the month it was added.

  • You'll receive a confirmation email with a copy of your submission from, so make sure to keep an eye out for that

Step 4: Monitor changes, activity and progress

We're working on an app to aid in the real-time tracking of your learner's button activity, set to launch in Q2. While we wait for the completion of the app, there are several ways to track and even visualize your learner's activity and progress, including submitting word update surveys to our team, journaling on, and using tools like Google Forms, Google Data Studio, and Google Sheets.

Note: You are NOT required to use any of these methods to track your progress. These are simply a set of suggested tools, examples and templates available to you in case you'd like to use them to track your learner's progress.

Word Update Forms

You can submit word updates through the How.TheyCanTalk forum to report your learner's new button additions and press activity, and receive email receipts that will be helpful in completing Part 5.


Some participants, like Anna, have been open journaling on, which is a great way for the community to learn from and with each other.

Google Tools

We've had several participants use Google tools (mainly Forms, Sheets and Data Studio) to track and visualize their learners' progress. Lindsay M., research participant and forum moderator, even created this set of templates and tutorial videos to share with the community:

Creating a Tracking Form in Google

Connecting the Google Form to Google Sheets

Creating the Dashboard

Easy Google Forms Update Script

You can also log activity directly into a Google Sheet/Excel file or Google/Word Doc.

For a full list of things to keep track of, see Step 5 below.

Step 5: Begin submitting your learner's data!

Two weeks after you've submitted your annotated soundboard, you will receive a link to progress report, where you can share updates with us and we'll ask a list of questions about:

  • Buttons you’ve added or removed since completing the button annotation (and then every 2 weeks after that)

  • Any other changes to your soundboard (e.g. transitioning from one type of button to another, consolidating buttons into a single place, modified button appearances or voice recordings)

  • Top 3 words and phrases you’ve modeled most since submitting your annotated soundboard

  • Your learner's 3 most used buttons

  • Your learner's 2 new favorite buttons

  • Any interesting (or most frequently expressed) multi-button presses

  • Changes in the number of waking hours you spent with your learner, or that your learner(s) had access to their buttons

  • Changes to the way your learner is using his/her buttons (e.g. to experiment, narrate, request, inform, speak for others, etc.)

  • Whether your learner has a preference for pressing buttons with nose vs. paw, and/or left paw vs. right paw (similar to handedness in humans)

You will continue to receive these progress reports every two weeks for six months or more so that we can gather data about your learner's progress and learning/communication patterns.