3 Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Talk
“Having a communication device doesn’t make you an effective communicator any more than having a piano makes you a musician.” -David Beukelman
Teaching your dog to talk takes more than ordering and programming buttons. I’m here to help you learn how to foster your dog’s language development so your dog can become an effective communicator. These first three steps will lay a solid foundation for your dog’s learning.
1. Talk to your Dog A LOT!
Before dogs will be able to say words, we need to talk to them! We need to talk to them way more than just giving commands. Some of you may already do this, but for others it might seem strange to talk to your furry friend often. But just like children, dogs learn words by hearing words. Think about babies; even though babies can’t talk yet, we talk to them because we know every word we say is impacting their language development. Picture your dog as a baby or toddler soaking in everything you’re saying. It will all eventually come out! To best help your dog learn words, use short, simple phrases and repetitive language to talk about exactly what’s happening in the moment or what is about to happen. Here are a couple of examples:
Teaching the word eat:
“Stella, time to eat. Let’s get your food. Ready to eat? Eat, eat, eat! Stella eats.”
Teaching the word walk:
“Stella, want to go for a walk? Yeah? Let’s go! Stella and Christina go for a walk! Walk, walk, walk.”
2. Observe Your Words
As you’re talking to your dog more and more, start observing the words you say most often. We all use different words instinctively. We just need to be aware of our own vocabulary patterns because our dogs are learning what we say. For example when talking about meal times, I instinctively say “eat” most frequently. But, you might say “food,” or “hungry” more than you say “eat.” This would be important to realize before choosing words to teach your dog. You will want to choose the words your dog is hearing most often and therefore is likely understanding best. After you’re naturally talking to your dog throughout the day, fill out this chart to learn what words you’re saying in different situations. (Your Words Matter)
3. Use Your Dog’s Buttons!
Now that you talk to your dog all the time, know the words you say often, and have programmed your dog’s buttons, it’s time to use them! Your dog will learn to use her buttons by seeing you use them. The more you talk to your dog using her buttons, the faster she’ll learn how to use them. Every time you hit one of her buttons, you are showing her how she can say that word too. This is called modeling. You are modeling how and when to use each button by pushing it at the appropriate times. When you say “eat,” say it verbally and say it with her button before giving her food. Before you go outside, say “outside” verbally and say it with her button. Every time you are saying a word to your dog that she has a button for, you should be saying it both verbally and with her button. This is called aided language input and is one of the most important strategies for teaching language with AAC.