What to do while Waiting for your Buttons

You've ordered your buttons and are eager to get started. Now what? Fortunately, there are many, many things to keep you and your learner busy while you wait for your buttons to arrive! Here are some of the things we recommend you do in preparation for button-training:

Enroll in TheyCanTalk Research

TheyCanTalk Research is a dog (and other animals) language learning study conducted as part of a collaboration between CleverPet (maker of FluentPet) and the University of California, San Diego.

If you've reached this page, you're probably already enrolled. If not, you can enroll now by filling out our comprehensive intake questionnaire, a detailed participant survey designed to provide as complete a picture of your learner (e.g., dog, cat, pig, etc.) as possible.

Note: If you've already filled this out and have received a unique participant ID, you do not have to complete this again.

Join How.TheyCanTalk.org

How.TheyCanTalk.org is a supportive and enthusiastic community where you can connect with other TheyCanTalk Research participants, access research tools and teaching tutorials, watch videos, ask questions and more.

Some of the spaces we recommend for beginners include:

Make sure to introduce yourself to the community, and check out our Learners Like Mine space group, where you can meet other participants who are training learners with similar characteristics to yours, from species, breed, age and size to temperament and more.

Target Training

Whether you already have buttons or not, we recommend conducting a few target training sessions with your learner before introducing them to their button(s). For this exercise, you should use non-button objects, such as a Post-it note or yogurt lid, to get your learner into the practice of touching an object to trigger an action.

While we're hesitant to recommend giving learners "food" or "treat" buttons—particularly with food-driven pets, who may either abuse their food/treat buttons or begin to see all buttons as treat-dispensers, which risks derailing their buttons-for-language training—we view treating for successfully targeting non-button objects as appropriate for the goal of the exercise.

Once your learner understands the concept of pressing an object to trigger an action, you can introduce a button for a non-food-related concept (e.g. "outside" or "play") and help them begin to understand that pressing different objects mean different things.


Target training with non-button objects

Plan Your Soundboard

We recommend watching our Getting Started video and going through our suggested order of introduction list, which was curated through early feedback from our research community, in addition to existing research in the fields of linguistics and cognitive science.

That said, we don't necessarily believe in a one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with such a diverse pool of learners and households, so we also have a Board Building space on How.TheyCanTalk.org where you can read up on various solutions that have worked for other participants.

For an even more tailored approach to building your soundboard, we recommend sharing a bit about your learner's preferences and behaviors with our research community to request their suggestions and feedback.

Model Words & Phrases

Another preparatory training exercise we recommend is to model the contextually appropriate usage of the words or phrases you plan to record on buttons as part of your everyday routine.

Using the words and phrases you plan to record on your learner's buttons in consistent and contextually appropriate ways over time helps to reinforce their meanings, increasing the chance that learners will understand in what scenarios to use these buttons once given access to them.

If your learner spends time around multiple people, it's especially important that each person is on the same page regarding the specific words used for concepts you plan to assign buttons. For example, if you plan to introduce a button for your neighbor's cat Mia, make sure you don't have one person in your household referring to your neighbor's cat as "cat," another as "kitty," and another as "Mia" when talking about her to (or even in front of) your learner.

Christina Hunger's website has a helpful Vocabulary Chart you can use to observe and identify the terminology you use with your learner. We also offer handy guides for how to model various words and phrases that are popular with our research participants.

Watch Our Q&A Series

Watch our TheyCanTalk Q&A series, featuring Q&A sessions with Alexis Devine (a.k.a. Bunny's mom!), Federico Rossano (Director of UCSD's Comparative Cognition Lab) and Leo Trottier (Founder of CleverPet), where they answer audience questions about the research program and button-training in general.

Set Up a Logging System

Logging your learner's button presses is Step 4 of the Phase 1 participation process, but you do not need buttons to choose and set up your logging system.

While you wait for your buttons to arrive, you can figure out how you want to log your learner's button press activity (based on your own lifestyle and technology comfort level and expertise) in between progress reports, and get set up with Google Forms & Data Studio should you choose to go that route) so that you can hit the ground running when your buttons arrive. 


Set Up Video Recording

Always-on recording is NOT a requirement for Phase 1 participation, although we do recommend setting up at least one indoor camera, ideally for continuous recording.

Visually documenting your learner's button engagement allows you to go back and view interactions you may have missed, and is a useful way to gather feedback from our research community should you choose to share your videos.

(Note: Video recording WILL be a key component for those we invite to participate in Phase 2, but we're still working out the logistics of exactly what that will entail.)

If you're interested in setting up a video camera to record your learner's soundboard interactions, you can find some camera and recording app suggestions here.

Submit Progress Reports

Our primary data gathering tools for TheyCanTalk Research are button annotator updates (occasional, and which you can only do once you've received your buttons) and progress reports (every two weeks, which you can do while you wait for your buttons).

To submit your progress report even if you don't have buttons or button-press activity to report:

After completing your intake questionnaire, we sent you your learner's unique participant ID, which you'll need to submit your progress reports.

At the beginning of the survey, after the check-in page, we ask about changes to your soundboard. Checking "No button/soundboard changes this period" will skip all button-related questions and take you to the “Routine and Environment” section (page 3).

Page 3: When asked how many buttons your learner pressed in the most recent learning period, and how many different buttons were pressed, put "0" in both of those fields, and explain that you're still waiting on your buttons in the "Is there any external reason that has likely impacted that number?" field.

Page 8: With the last question of the progress report, you can share anything you'd like about what you've been doing to prepare for introducing the buttons to your learn, such as word selection, target training, word modeling, or any of the other activities suggested above.

When you receive your buttons: On the next progress report you fill out after you receive your buttons, check the "Received buttons" box on the "Changes to Your Soundboard" page.

We also ask about new concepts (not buttons) have been introduced during the 2-week learning period, as well as which words you've been modeling without buttons. You can read here for more information about these non-button questions.