A Dog in San Diego Just Learned to Talk (Using a Soundboard, But Still...)

Dog behaviorists and trainers have spent years deciphering the language of dogs. From the meaning behind butts in the air (play time!) to them lying on the ground belly-up (submission), every good pup parent learns the basics to better understand their pooches.

Amazingly, a 26-year-old speech-language pathologist named Christina Hunger has gone several steps further by training her dog Stella to communicate, using a specially-made soundboard. Hunger got the idea from teaching toddlers to talk using outside devices, and says that Stella now communicates much like a 2-year-old human.

Here's Stella, concerned about activity outside their house, telling Hunger to go and check things out:

Stella, now 18 months old, has been in training since she was an eight-week-old puppy. Since then, the Catahoula-Blue Heeler mix has acquired the ability to communicate about what she wants, what she just did, and how she is feeling. Hunger told People that she's "in constant amazement and shock" over how much Stella has learned, and how quickly the dog is figuring out how to construct phrases.

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In a July blog post, Hunger explained: "Stella is predictable with her language in the sense that she uses words relevant to what’s happening or what just happened. When we came back from the dog park, she said 'park.' She didn’t say 'beach' or 'walk.' Her language is unpredictable at the same time because she is constantly generating novel word combinations, using language to communicate in different ways, and surpassing communication limitations I once thought she might have."

There are pros and cons to all of this, of course. On the one hand, Stella can tell Hunger that she loves her, and also when she is happy.

And she can let Hunger know when things aren't quite right:

On the other hand, she can now make frequent, impossible-to-say-no-to requests for play, time outside, walks and visits to the beach.

How could anyone say no to this?

Hunger is now assisting her parents in teaching their Boxer-Border Collie mix, Maisie, to communicate using the same methods as Stella.

Given the lengths that Americans go to for their dogs every single day, Hunger and Stella's soundboard might well be the next frontier of dog training. Not to mention a major boost for dog-human relations. That is, if we can handle all the scritches on demand...

 

 

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