Hey, everyone: Meet Stella the dog! Or, as she might say, “Look! Stella!”
Stella’s been working on her human communication skills with the help of her owner, speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger. Using paw-sized buttons that play words recorded by Hunger, Stella taps out short phrases to share her needs and emotions.
Combined with the scratch at the door and a plaintive whine, is there any doubt what Stella’s trying to say?
Hunger uses similar equipment, called augmentative and alternative communication devices, in her work with very young children. After adopting Stella as a puppy, she and her fiancé, Jake, started experimenting with an “outside” button for Stella to press.
Before long, Stella was using the “outside” button without help, and Hunger began expanding her vocabulary.
In this video, Stella says “Happy, ball, want, outside” after Hunger pressed “ball” accidentally. (Stella didn’t know it was a mistake and got excited for playtime!)
“Every day I spent time using Stella’s buttons to talk with her and teach her words just as I would in speech therapy sessions with children,” Hunger writes on her blog, Hunger For Words. “Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly.”
Stella, a Blue Heeler/Catahoula Leopard Dog mix, is now 18 months old and uses at least 29 words. According to People, two of her favorite words are “walk” and “beach” — perfectly appropriate, since she lives in San Diego, California.
As Hunger writes in the Instagram post below, Stella’s also capable of using combinations of words even when she’s a little on edge. In the video, Stella uses a couple of worried “borks” and her soundboard to talk about a strange noise she heard outside.
Stella can express her negative feelings as well. When her owners did not feed her as expected after Daylight Savings Time started in April, Stella requested food repeatedly but did not get it.
“When Jake and I did not feed her dinner this early she said, ‘love you no’ and walked into the other room,” Hunger relates in her blog.
Some scientists are working on artificial-intelligence-guided systems for human-animal communication. Hunger’s method seems pretty simple by comparison. But the results speak for themselves.
“I’m in constant amazement and shock,” Hunger told People. “Every day she says something cooler than she said the day before.”
Good girl, Stella!