Christina Hunger is a 26-year-old speech-language pathologist in San Diego who believes that “everyone deserves a voice”. She works with children aged one and two, and most of them use adaptive devices to communicate. Hunger wondered what would happen if she taught her two-month-old puppy Stella to do the same. Stella is a Catahoula/Blue Heeler, and Hunger believes that if dogs can understand the words we say to them, they should be able to say words to us. So, she thought that maybe dogs can use AAC to communicate with humans.
Hunger and her fiance Jake started off by creating a button that said “outside”, and then pressed the button every time they said the word or opened the door so Stella could come out. After just a few weeks, every time Hunger said “outside”, Stella looked at the button. The dog soon began to step on the button every time she wanted to go outside, and they soon added more buttons. They said “eat”, “water”, “play”, “walk”, “no”, “come”, “help”, “bye”, and “love you”. Hunger adds that she spent time with Stella to teach her words every day, just like she would do in speech therapy sessions with young children.
So, instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, Hunger and her fiance responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly. The dog’s voice and opinions matter just as their own do. For example, if Stella’s water bowl is empty, she says “water”. If she wants to play a game, she says “play”. Believe it or not, Hunger writes in her blog that Stella even began telling friends “bye” if they put on their jackets by the door.
The dog soon learned to combine different words to make phrases, and one afternoon she began saying “eat” at 3:00 pm. When Hunger didn’t respond with food, Stella said “love you no” and walked out of the room.
Stella now knows over 29 words, and she can combine up to five at a time to make sentences.
Hunger believes that her work has the potential to transform the bond between humans and dogs forever. Check out Stella in action in Hunger’s Instagram videos below, and feel free to tell us what you think about it in the comments.
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Last night, right before this video was taken, I accidentally said “ball” on Stella’s device while I was actually reaching for a different word. But, Stella took this very seriously! She picked up her ball, dropped it on her device, and said “Good” (Translation: Good idea, Mom!) • I started recording right after she said “Good” and caught the rest of her thought: “Happy ball want outside!” • Like all AAC users, Stella thrives when we talk to her using her device and say words that she loves. She never needs to know it was on accident! 😉 • • • • • #hunger4words #stellathetalkingdog #slpsofinstagram #speechtherapy #AAC #ashaigers #slp #corewords #SLPeeps #slp2be #aacawarenessmonth #earlyintervention #languagedevelopment #dogsofinstagram #dogmom #doglife #dogs #animalpsychology #doglover #dogvideos #sandiegodog #catahoula #blueheeler #smartdog #dogcommunication #mydogtalks #animalcommunication #interspeciescommunication #loveanimals