Many dog owners will tell you that their pets communicate with them, however, what they are trying to say is still a mystery.
However, we might be a little closer as a speech-language pathologist who is also a dog parent to an 18-month-old dog, is working to find out. She’s already made some progress in discovering that her pet Stella can communicate certain things to her – such as she’s tired after playing and would like a nap, or that instead of playing she would prefer to eat, or that she would like to go outside.
26-year-old Christina Hunger has the help of an adaptive device that she devised in order to help Stella communicate not only words but her thoughts and feelings as well. When Stella – a Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix – wishes to “talk,” she steps on buttons that correspond with words Hunger has recorded and programmed into the device.
Stella is already taking to these new language skills. One day, Stella was whining at the front door and pacing back and forth. Christina assumed that she needs to go outside to the bathroom, however, once Stella went over to her device, she was able to communicate it out. She tapped on the words “Want,” “Jake,” and “Come,” before going back to stand in front of the door. When Christina’s fiancé, Jake, came home a few moments later, Stella went over and pressed the “Happy” button then rolled onto her back for belly rubs.
“I’m in constant amazement and shock,” Christina said to PEOPLE. “Every day she says something cooler than she said the day before.”
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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
Christina, who works in San Diego with 1- and 2-year-old children – many of whom used adaptive language devices to help them communicate – began to teach Stella words when she was about 8-weeks-old. Now, the 50-pound-dog can identify about 29 words and can combine up to 5 of them in order to form a phrase or sentence.
“The way she uses words to communicate and the words she’s combining is really similar to a 2-year-old child,” says Christina, who has documented Stella’s progress on her blog called Hunger For Words, as well as on her Instagram.
She loves knowing Stella’s thoughts, and Stella seems happy to be able to communicate them as well. When Stella first learned how to communicate “walk,” she would get excited and would use the word repeatedly.
“I didn’t realize how much she was waiting to say it,” Christina said.
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Stella uses language differently when she’s in a heightened state versus when she’s calm! • Today when she heard some noises outside and wanted to go investigate, I told her we were staying inside. • Stella responded by saying, “Look” 9 TIMES IN A ROW, then “Come outside.” She was clearly in a more frantic state, and her language use matched that. We all sound differently than normal when we’re in distress, Stella included! • I’m impressed that Stella is communicating with language during her more heightened states, not just when she’s calm and in a quiet space. This shows me that words are becoming more automatic for her to use. It’s similar to when a toddler starts using language to express himself during times of frustration instead of only crying. That happens when it’s easy for the toddler to say words, not when he’s still learning and it takes a lot of focus to talk 🧠🗣 • • • • • #hunger4words #stellathetalkingdog #slpsofinstagram #speechtherapy #AAC #ashaigers #slp #corewords #SLPeeps #slp2be #earlyintervention #languagedevelopment #dogsofinstagram #dogmom #doglife #dogs #guarddog #animalpsychology #doglover #dogvideos #sandiegodog #catahoula #blueheeler #smartdog #dogcommunication #mydogtalks #animalcommunication #interspeciescommunication #loveanimals
Another favorite word of Stella’s is “beach.”
“She loves saying ‘beach.’ She was so happy and still says it very often,” she added.
Christina plans to continue teaching Stella new words and phrases and has plans to teach other dogs how to “speak” as well.
“I think how important dogs are to their humans,” She says. “I just imagine how much deeper the bond will be.”