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Dog owner devises a language board for her pet, and the result is extraordinary

Stella the dog with her communication board © hunger4words - Instagram

A language therapist from San Diego has applied her learning of human language development to that of canines. And her work has yielded some startling results.

By Nick Whittle, 6 Nov 2019

Christina Hunger has created a doggy language board complete with 22 buttons each labelled with a basic word. Her dog Stella, now 18 months old, was trained at an early age to communicate simple demands and feelings by use of the board.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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


Stella now has the capacity, says Miss Hunger, to communicate almost as effectively as a two year old human.

Writes NIU Today, “Stella is able to communicate on par with a two-year-old human child, pushing a series of buttons to communicate a full thoughts, such as ‘Christina bye,’ when her owner is leaving, or ‘Park park play,’ when she is requesting to go to the park.”

Case study

The success of the communication device relies on the dog’s use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. AAC is used by most of us to supplement our verbal communication with each other. It includes body language and facial expressions.

Thus AAC is not about the syntactic meaning of words (such as whether “mad” means angry or crazy or zany). It is more about the communication of a non-verbal idea. It is Hunger’s work with AAC in the context of human children that has inspired her to apply the same theory to dogs.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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


I was working with toddlers and children who use communication devices to talk,” said Hunger. “And every time I would see Stella whining or barking or going to the door to show us she needed to go outside, every time I saw her understanding the words we were saying, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how she needed a way to communicate with us.

I knew that, if she can understand language, she should absolutely be able to use language.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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


Precedents

Hunger told NIU Today that her attempts to communicate with Stella emulated the work of renowned animal psychologist Dr Penny Patterson. Dr Patterson taught a modified form of sign language to Koko the gorilla in 1972.