Catch Ovi in action on Instagram at @ovi_theschnauzer
Q. So Mika, who is this learner of yours?
Ovi is my 7-year-old rambunctious Mini Schnauzer. He loves his dad, his food, to patrol our house, walks to the park and rolling in the grass at the park. He affectionately gives humans leg hugs and if he could he likes to hi to every dog aka sniff their butts.
Q. What inspired you to do button teaching?
Ovi is my first furry companion and I have always wondered what he’s thinking. He’s so expressive otherwise, I’ve always been curious to know how much he actually understands and wanted to know what he’d say if he could talk. One evening during the pandemic, when Ovi was 4 years old, my dad showed me Alexis and Bunny’s videos and I was surprised, overjoyed, in awe - all of it! This was my dream they were living! I ordered buttons the next day and have never looked back!
Q. What was Ovi's first button and how long did it take him to press it?
PLAY: He pressed unprompted within the first 10 days. But he REALLY got into it when we added a ‘treat’ button which was his 4th button.
I didn’t realise how much he needed cheering up or distracting when one of us left the house without him. But now with the buttons he can ask us for a puzzle when one of us leaves and that helps him feel better and relaxes him and any anxiety he might be feeling.
Also when he was on medication for a skin allergy, one of the side effects was extra water consumption which means he needed to pee more often. The buttons helped him communicate this need to us and we were able to let him out as much as he needed to do his business.
I have also learned that he would much rather work for his food with a puzzle than be directly given it in his bowl.
Q. What's the most interesting thing Ovi has used the buttons to communicate?
When he had a splinter in his paw. I had recently added body part buttons to his board. He’s very familiar with the words so I thought he’d take to it fairly easily. But I was still so surprised when he pressed the ‘paw’ button and I did a quick check partly just to model and reiterate the button to him to actually find a splinter in it. He was really patient with me when I helped him remove it too.
When my parents visited I added their name buttons - grandpaw and gramma. I modelled it a bunch when they were here and would ask him where either of them was and he’d look pointedly at them.
Whenever they would come home they would ring me rather than the doorbell because they know how much the doorbell triggers Ovi. There were times after they left that Ovi would rush to the door each time I got a call and then press the grandparents buttons to ask for them. I kept saying they had gone ‘bye’ and would be back later.
He pressed - ‘grandpaw’ ‘finished’ once after one such interaction where he asked for them. Like as if none of my explanations were giving him the finality and closure that he needed from their visit (they live in india and I am in the UK). I said something along the lines of - yes their visit is finished now and they would be back another time. It’s as if ‘finished’ helped explain their absence better to him than ‘bye’. I guess ‘bye’ is more like - be back later where as ‘finished’ is like - there will be no more visits until he’s told otherwise.
Q. What challenges have you faced with button teaching? How did you overcome them?
Ovi sometimes stops using buttons altogether for a while. Especially when I make big changes to his board. So I have learned to go really slow- I probably make a big change like add words or a tile - once every 3 months. I model words before adding buttons and use the buttons without the board before adding them to the board. Gradual changes like that seem to work better for us.
Q. What’s your funniest button moment?
Another time he seemed to call out my husband for eating a dessert without sharing with me. I wasn’t in the same room and he said ‘look’ ‘daddy’ ‘treat’ or something along those lines.
When I was sad after my parents left and was seeking comfort by playing with him, I was telling him I loved him and he went to the board and pressed ‘love you’ and came back to me for a cuddle. That was so special.
He actually listens to what we have to say a lot more. He’s less anxious when we leave without him because we tell him where we’re going and when we’ll be back. He listens when we explain what’s going on outside the house that has him alert and barking. I feel like it’s increased his trust in us and we’re definitely better for it.
Q. What advice would you give to others who are interested in teaching their learners to use buttons?
Not to compare their learner to what they see on social media. Every learner is different. We post our most interesting button moments. What they don’t see is how long it took us to get there and what all the other daily presses look like.
Also, they won’t just press the ‘treat’ button if you give them one. He’s has probably used his ‘treat’ button once this month as opposed to how frequently he used it at the beginning of our journey. They go through phases of learning and you will be surprised at what you discover. So keep at it and don’t give up!