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Button, Button.
Who's got the Buttons?
Have you ever wished it was easier for your dog to tell you what they need?


The more you listen, the more conversations you have in everyday interactions with your dog, the more your dog will try to communicate with you.  Most people who say their dog never gives them attention, probably have dogs who would say the same thing about them.

There is a huge difference between talking TO your dog and talking AT them. 

Issuing commands and expecting compliance isn't a conversation.  Communication is a two-way street.  Conversations require listening as much or more than talking.  One of you prompts the other - most often with body language.  Your dog gives you a look, a nudge of a nose to get your attention. They lead you with look and a step in the direction they'd like you to follow. 


You probably miss most of the body language communication signals your dog is giving you.  You may not consciously acknowledge that he shook off as he stood up, or the way he lowers his head slightly, hunches his shoulders and the flick of his ears.  And you are probably unaware of the collection of body language signals your dog is picking up from you.  You have no idea what your body is saying half the time, but your dog is hanging on your every gestured "word" trying to figure you out.  Study your dog as much as they study you.

Learn more about Canine Body Language Communication through the "What is My Dog Saying?" PowerPoint presentation.



Better Communication = Less Frustration

Have you ever been locked out of the house and the person inside couldn't hear you?  What did you do to get their attention?  Yell?  Rattle the doorknob?  Pound on the door?  Throw pebbles at the window they were in?

smart bell.jpg

By giving your dog an appropriate way to ask for the things they need, you can avoid many behavior "problems" that are simply your dog's way of expressing their frustration over not being able to communicate with you.

Let's face it, needing to get your person's attention so they will open the door and let you in is a problem all dogs face.  They experiment with various actions to get your attention until something WORKS.

Scratching up the door, jumping up and down, getting mud all over the glass, barking and annoying the neighbors - all of these behaviors are just solutions to solve a predicament that he found himself in.  The dog repeats these behaviors persistently BECAUSE YOU OPENED THE DOOR.  Not because he's a bratty, demanding, dog who likes to claw the siding off your house.

This dog doorbell is mounted on the outside of the door.  When the dog pushes it, it rings inside the house.  No barking or jumping necessary.  You could also mount a button inside the house so he can tell you when he needs to go OUT.

Your dog can learn to ask to go out by barking, ringing bells, or coming to you and performing an alert signal.  And you can also TEACH YOUR DOG TO "TALK" USING COMMUNICATION BUTTONS!

Can your dog really learn how to convey complex thoughts using whole sentences? 

We must never forget that our dogs are canine, not human.  Can dogs use buttons to convey thoughts and language the way we do?   Do they understand complex sentence structure and human rationale?  Morality?  Prepositions?  Of course not.  Hearing our dog "say" words in our voice may increase our human tendency toward anthropomorphism.  Hearing them "say" words might lead us to attribute human intentions that our dogs simply can't.  It may make it more difficult to give our dogs the benefit of the doubt and derail our ability to be able to see the world through canine eyes.  Because we want so much to know what they are thinking, we may hear meaning that isn't there.  Our dogs may just be randomly hitting buttons and "babbling" a collection of words out of excitement or frustration.  It would be very easy to believe that the accidental combination of button presses created meaningful composition of sentences that just aren't really there.  


Can they make a connection between the sound of the words in a phrase we say and an outcome?  Yes, of course!  We don't need buttons to know that.  It happens every day, with or without buttons.  I only have to say, "Do you want ...?" and my dog's ears perk and her head swivels and she takes off toward whatever predicted (hoped for?) words might follow.  So, yes.  Absolutely.  I believe that my dog feels emotions and has preferences.  Are they hearing the words we say or just noticing the way we raise one eyebrow, and our voice goes up when we say THAT word?  The button has no body language.  It's JUST a sound recorded in our voice.  The cadence and the way we say things matters.  Any intonation that may have been paired with that particular raised eyebrow becomes a predictor of going for a walk.  Temple Grandin says animals see in pictures.  The word "walk" might not just spark the visual of you raising your eyebrow, tipping your head and glancing at the leash hanging on the rack by your coat, but that sound or phrase becomes a predictor of you opening the door and the fun outing that follows.  It might also be paired with the scent memory of the path and the squirrels that play in the yard that we would never notice.  Their understanding of the word will be coupled with an emotional response.  This is why dogs become overwhelmed with excitement - or outraged- when the doorbell rings.


I love the buttons because the dog now has a way to easily tell us what they need in a way that we can better understand. 

Without the frustrated theatrics of trying to make themselves understood, they can communicate with our dim selves that they'd really like to go for a walk or play ball, or when they need "help" because their ball is under the sofa and they can't reach it.  Word buttons can reduce frustration for both the canine and the human.

You don't teach your dog words using buttons. 

You record words they know and model pushing the buttons before doing whatever the button said.  


Notice behavior signals:
Dog is sniffing around and you think they might need to go out.  


"Do you need to go outside?"  "Let's go OUTSIDE!"  

Model the button press:

On your way to open the door, push the "OUTSIDE!" button, then open the door and go outside with your puppy. 

Repeat the word and celebrate:

"Yay!  OUTSIDE!"

Notice behavior signals:

Dog investigates the empty water bowl 


"Do you need to WATER?"  

Model the button press:

You push the "WATER" button, then pick up the water bowl and as you fill it, say. 

Repeat and celebrate:

"Yay!  WATER!"


After many repetitions, you may notice the dog happens to glance at the button when he needs that thing. 

Don't wait to see if he'll press it, respond to the look. 

He will become aware of the connection long before he considers pushing it himself.  Go look at the button with him.  Get excited.  "Do you need [insert thing here] and push the button while he watches and then excitedly give him that thing.  He may sniff the button, paw the air, stand and stare at it.  Let him know you noticed and model it.  Watching YOU push the button is how he will learn to copy your action and eventually push it himself.  It may take days or weeks.  Be patient.  

The DISCOVERY that your dog can cue YOU is incredibly powerful.  

Be patient!  Don't stand over the buttons encouraging him to do it.  Let him experiment as he is ready.


He may want something but hit the wrong button - or hit a flurry of buttons out of frustration.

No matter what he pushes, give him what the button said.  If he clearly wanted dinner, but pushed water by accident, put some water in that full bowl anyway.  If he looks puzzled, you can ask, "did you mean DINNER?"   Push that button and make him dinner.  "Yay, Dinner! and push the "dinner" button again before you put it on the floor.  


Start using your buttons as soon as your puppy comes home.

Baby puppies are little sponges, learning about how humans communicate.  Just as it is easier to acquire new languages at a young age than to learn a new language as an adult, the younger you start teaching your puppy, the larger his vocabulary will become.  Use your words!  Tell your puppy what things are.  


Start with two or three of the puppy's most important needs.  Words you are already using that are beginning to have meaning in everyday routines.

What words do you use regularly in everyday conversation with your pet?  These are the words you will program on your buttons.

Make a list of words you use often - prioritize them.  Start with 2 or 3. 

  • Outside

  • Dinner

  • Water

​When your puppy has discovered the power of buttons, you can gradually add buttons as his vocabulary grows.

  • Snack

  • Ball

  • Walk

​As your dog begins to use those buttons to ask for things he wants, you will find that you will also need these buttons:

  • All done

  • Later

You'll introduce two-button sentences.  "All done-Ball" or "Walk-Later"​


Avoid teaching your dog to push buttons on cue.  

If you teach your dog to press the buttons on cue, they won't realize the buttons are a form of communication that they can use to communicate their own needs anytime they want to tell you something.  They'll just think that pushing a button is a trick like "shake" that they do when you ask them to earn a treat.  You are assisting your dog in learning how to use your language to communicate with you.

Here are some articles with helpful tips for getting started:

Encouraging Your First Independent Presses

Prompting vs Directing

Repeat the button word the dog asked for, and then push the button yourself as you deliver what they wanted.

(turn on sound)

An example of training journal notes when Arbee was 4 months old:
"She loves her programmable buttons. One says "outside" - she pushes it on the way out, even when she can go out the dog door all by herself. She also pushes it and then comes and stares at me because she wants me to go outside with her.  (Sometimes I think she's just hitting it as she comes in to announce that she WAS "outside"?)  Her other buttons are "dinner" which she pushes when it appears I've forgotten to feed them or when I start making a meal for us. When she finishes her dinner and the cat is still eating hers, she pushes "dinner-dinner-dinner" over and over because she wants kitty left-overs and the cat is still eating. One button says "snacks." She will bring her Snoop food puzzle ball and push the "snack" button when she wants it filled. But her favorite button says "Let's work" which is what I say when I invite her to start a training session. She invites me a lot. There is also a button that says, "all done!" (She's not fond of that one. Arbee is hardly ever "done"! )  But it is essential to explain that whatever we are doing has concluded and it reduces her frustration when she wants "more."  (I have not made a "more" button or a "now" button.)"



How Stella Learned to Talk
- a MUST read!

Teach Your Dog to Talk 

- a beginner's guide

I Am Bunny: How a "Talking" Dog Taught Me Everything I Need to Know About Being Human


Talking Dog Blog | Hunger For Words

Talking Dog Buttons – FluentPet

I am bunny - word buttons.jpg
Fluent pet buttons.jpg

This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People - - 

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