The Story of a Dog Named Cache
Inspired by videos of Bunny the Talking Dog, Christina ordered a set of FluentPet buttons to try with her shy 6-month-old Golden Retriever, Cache. She set them up and started teaching him to use them, just like FluentPet instructed. And .. nothing. Cache didn’t interact with the buttons at all. Nothing for the first few weeks and then only accidentally or haphazardly for weeks after that.
Christina kept modeling every day, hoping for a breakthrough. That breakthrough came a bit after the one-month mark. Laughing, Christina remembers, “ I knew to expect a slow start but it was still brutal. It feels ridiculous trying to talk to a dog every day for a month with them just looking at you like you’re nuts.”
As it turns out, Cache was the type of learner who went from 0-60. He got his first buttons in late October. He finally began using them on purpose around Thanksgiving. By Christmas, he had over 20 buttons and was using them every day.
Christina and Cache never looked back from there. She explains, “Now he learns them so fast I can’t believe he actually knows them already, yet he uses them correctly after only one or two modeling events. So I think that’s something I’d love people to know: how they start off isn’t necessarily how they’ll always be and it doesn’t predict their potential.”
Now, a year later, 1 ½-year-old Cache has 108 buttons on his soundboard. He talks all day. He loves his buttons so much that he often sleeps by them. According to his mom, it’s clear the soundboard is now his most valued possession in life, even though he started out afraid of it.
If you’ve read this far, chances are you and your learner are still in the beginning stages of button teaching. As Christina’s story illustrates, a slow start is not a bad sign. In fact, your breakthrough could be right around the corner. Look for the following indicators that your dog or cat is progressing in their learning journey, even if they have yet to press a button.
8 Signs Your Learner May Begin Pressing Buttons Soon
They’re listening. Notice if they look at you or appear to be actively listening when you speak to and model concepts for them. If they turn their head or tilt their ears toward your voice when you speak, that’s a sign that they’re paying attention.
They recognize certain words. Pay attention if they respond appropriately to words you say to them such as running to the back door when you say “outside.” Words they already recognize are great choices for early buttons.
They’re trying to communicate with you. Increased attempts to communicate with you via natural body language and/or vocalizations are great signs. It’s also good if they begin initiating more interactions with you. Whether it’s a greeting stretch when you enter the room or a gentle nose boop to get your attention, the more responsive you are, the more they’ll try to communicate.
They recognize your routine. If they begin anticipating routine activities like feeding or walk times it shows they have a strong grasp of your daily routine together. Keep modeling buttons for these familiar and predictable concepts!
They watch you. It’s a good sign if they are engaged with and focused on you when you approach and use the soundboard to model buttons.
They investigate the soundboard. Praise them for showing any interest in the soundboard such as approaching, looking at, or sniffing it. Wait to react until you can tell they weren’t about to interact with it so you don’t accidentally interrupt them.
The soundboard becomes more valuable. Your learner may begin recognizing the soundboard is valuable and start spending more time around it or even lying on it. Cats, especially, seem to lie on the soundboard before they begin using it themselves.
Button presses become familiar and mean good things. Does your learner come running when you press a button to see what grand and exciting thing you have in store for them? Watch for signs that your learner recognizes the meaning of a concept when you press that button. Look for ear perks, head tilts, increased excitement, or best of all— an appropriate response to a button that was just pressed. For example, they might run to the door when OUTSIDE is pressed or grab a toy when PLAY is pressed.
What to Do in the Meantime…
Be patient and persistent. For most cats and dogs (learners), learning how to use buttons appropriately doesn’t happen immediately. While some pick it up quickly, others can take weeks or months to “get it”. However, once they get it, things start moving faster. Keep working at their pace and learn to recognize signs of progress so you can celebrate even the smallest of breakthroughs!
Give them time to think. Keep in mind that they process things more slowly than we do. Give them time to process after you say or ask something, even when talking to them normally. Watch your learner’s behavior and try to give 15-45 seconds of thinking time before moving on. This gives them time to think and helps them know it’s their turn to talk or react.
Consider target training. Many learners benefit from target training which helps them practice the physical act of pressing buttons. Cat learners, especially, often require this to encourage them to apply enough pressure to activate buttons.
Don’t overwhelm them with too many buttons in the beginning. Start with 1-3 buttons that are adequately motivating to your learner. You can consider introducing more once they learn the locations and meanings of buttons they currently have.
At the end of the day, button teaching is about spending quality time with your learner. It’s about trying new things and exploring the world together. What better bonding activity than improving how well you understand and communicate with one another? No matter how quickly or how far you progress in your learning journey, the important part is that you enjoyed your time together along the way. Now go celebrate your efforts and your amazing learner!