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Happy Ball Want Outside: Dog Learns To Talk Using A Word Machine, Already Knows 29 Words

Posted on: November 11, 2019, in Blog

Probably every pet owner has dreamed about having a conversation with their little friends. Well, proud dog mom, Christina Hunger has found a way. And no, she’s not a mind reader. The 26-year-old speech-language pathologist is communicating with her pup through a custom-made soundboard.

Hunger has an 18-month-old Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, Stella. Whenever she wants to express her thoughts and feelings, she just steps on buttons corresponding with words Christina recorded and programmed into the device.

Image credits: hunger4words

Image credits: hunger4words

The soundboard has been working wonders. With it, Stella has been able to tell her owner when she’s tired and needs a nap, when she’s hungry and wants to grab a bite or when she wants to go for a walk – specifically to the park.

Stella is also a wonderful student. She not only knows 29 words but can put together phrases as well. One day, Stella was whining at the front door, unable to stay in place. Hunger thought that she needed to go outside. However, Stella walked to her device and said, “Want,” “Jake” “Come.” The pup then stood in front of the door and waited until Jake, Hunger’s fiancé, returned home. Stella then pressed “Happy” and rolled over, asking for a belly rub.

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A post shared by Christina Hunger, MA, CCC-SLP (@hunger4words) on

“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!”

Image credits: hunger4words

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“Stella adapts her message when she isn’t feeling understood, just like we all do! If someone doesn’t understand us or we don’t get the response we were expecting, we change the words we’re using to explain ourselves better.

Watch this sequence of Stella telling us, three different ways in a row, that she wanted to go play!

First, Stella said “Come play.” When we didn’t come play, she added more details and said, “Outside play love you.” Finally, she got as specific as she could and told us, “Park.” Stella is truly a great communicator!”

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A post shared by Christina Hunger, MA, CCC-SLP (@hunger4words) on

“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.”

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A post shared by Christina Hunger, MA, CCC-SLP (@hunger4words) on

“Wait, wait, wait, then wait some more! Best practice in speech therapy with beginning communicators includes giving the learner increased wait time to process what’s happening and generate a response. Pausing before prompting or talking more gives the communicator a chance to respond!

Stella benefits from the same wait time. In this video she hit her “outside” button twice, but no sound came out. Instead of jumping up to fix it, I bit my tongue, stood still, and waited a full 13 seconds before Stella said “No. Help help!” Way to go Stella for telling me her button wasn’t working and asking for help!”

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A post shared by Christina Hunger, MA, CCC-SLP (@hunger4words) on

“Don’t you just hate it when your dog talks back to you?? After Stella finished her breakfast this morning, I said and modeled on her device “Stella all done eat.” She immediately responded “no,” and walked back to her dishes while licking her lips.

While this made me laugh, I also think it’s pretty amazing because Stella is really starting to appropriately respond to what we’re saying and participate in short conversations.”

Image credits: hunger4words

Image credits: hunger4words

People were blown away by Stella’s skills

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