- Speech pathologists use recordable buttons to communicate with nonverbal individuals.
- These buttons can also help dogs and other animals communicate their needs and wants.
- Read more below about the best dog buttons and training program to teach your dog how to “talk.”
Cognitive scientists and speech pathologists have long used pressable augmentative and alternative communication buttons – each representing an action, place, or object – to communicate with nonverbal individuals. One pioneering speech therapist, Christina Hunger, discovered dogs can use the method, too. By pressing buttons onto which a word or sound has been recorded, a dog can learn to “speak” in simple phrases like “play” and “outside.” Give them enough buttons and they can communicate their thoughts on almost everything. Get started with a beginner’s set of four to six buttons. For this guide, we’ve selected the best options, including budget, fully customizable, and light-up versions.
Here are the best dog buttons in 2021
- Best dog buttons overall: Fluent Pet Get Started Kit
- Best budget dog buttons: Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers
- Best customizable dog buttons: Talking Products Talking Tiles
- Best light-up dog buttons: Galpara LED Voice Recorder Buttons
- Best potty button: Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0
- Best dog button training program: Talk to the Beans
Fluent Pet’s Get Started Kit comes with six buttons and three nonslip tiles for organizing words and actions.
What we like: Fully customizable, comes with tiles to keep buttons organized, batteries included
Fluent Pet’s Get Started Kit was designed by a cognitive scientist to foster better communication between verbal and nonverbal individuals. The battery-operated system works for dogs, too, as proven by Bunny, a canine learner who has amassed hundreds of thousands of social media followers. The kit comes with everything you need to teach your dog, including six buttons with microphones for recording words and 67 stickers to identify the buttons visually.
Valli Parthasarathy, board certified veterinary behaviorist at Synergy Behavior Solutions in Portland, Oregon, recommends starting with words that can be clearly paired with something your dog regularly sees or does. “More abstract concepts such as emotions and time would be more challenging to teach,” she said. The buttons fit into three nonslip hexagonal tiles: one for actions, one for objects, and one for places. The tiles can be put together in multiple configurations and easily disassembled or added to. The kit arrives ready-to-use with batteries and a starter guide.
The best budget dog buttons
Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers are an affordable way to begin teaching a dog to use their words.
What we like: Includes four buttons in different colors, easy to press, comes with activity guide
Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers, a tool that speech pathologists use to communicate with nonverbal individuals, are an affordable way to begin teaching a dog to “talk.” How quickly they learn depends on a variety of factors, said Sara Scott, a professional dog trainer in Oakland, California. “A dog with a long history of training may pick it up really quickly, but a dog who is green might take considerably longer. It also depends on how efficient you are as a trainer and how much work you’re putting in.”
This set comes with four easy-to-press 3-inch-diameter buttons in four different colors. Each button is powered by two AAA batteries and can record up to seven seconds of sound. Batteries are not included, but the set arrives with an activity guide to help you get started.
The best customizable dog buttons
Talking Products Talking Tiles are fully customizable with transparent covers and up to 80 seconds of recording time.
What we like: Fully customizable, can record sound using a computer or smartphone, includes six buttons in different colors
According to Scott, you can either teach your dog new words one at a time or work on a few words with different meanings simultaneously. Talking Products Talking Tiles comes with six buttons that can be fully customized with audio messages and images. Each 4-inch-wide hexagonal button holds up to 80 seconds of audio recorded with a built-in microphone or via a smartphone or computer using the audio-input jack. Further customize each button by adding a picture or symbol underneath the transparent cover. Each button runs on three AAA batteries, which must be purchased separately.
The best light-up dog buttons
Galapara’s LED Voice Recorder Buttons play sound and light up simultaneously each time they are pressed.
What we like: Light-up buttons, easy to press, records up to 30 seconds of sound
Galpara’s LED Voice Recorder Buttons are durable plastic buttons that glow with LED light when pressed. While this feature can be a useful cue for teaching any dog to communicate, it may be especially helpful for those who are hard of hearing. A visual signal like a light should work the same way to help a deaf dog to communicate as sound does for hearing dogs, said Scott.
The flash of the light can be paired with an action like going outside or playing with a toy. For those that can hear, these four differently colored, easy-to-press buttons can also record up to 30 seconds of sound. Each buzzer runs on two AAA batteries, which are sold separately.
The best potty button
The Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0 works indoors or out so your dog can communicate when they need to potty or when they want to come in.
What we like: Easy to press, 38 customizable bell tones, can be used indoors or out, 90-day money-back guarantee
Teach your dog how to communicate when they need to go outside with the Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0. The bell consists of a plug-in receiver and an easy-to-press activator button. The 2-inch-diameter wireless activator button can be placed anywhere within 1,000 feet of the receiver using a 3M adhesive strip. The water-resistant button can even be placed outside for dogs who need to let you know when they’re ready to come in. To adjust the sound of the bell, choose from four volumes and 38 different ring tones.
The Mighty Paw Smart Bell also comes with a training guide to help you get started and a self-charging battery is built into the device. Just be sure that you are responsive to the bell after your dog learns to use it. “Once your dog understands that they can ask to go outside, you need to make sure that you prioritize meeting your dog’s needs,” said Scott.
The best dog button training program
The Talk To The Beans training program teaches guardians and their pets how to communicate using buttons.
What we like: 12 training modules with instructional videos, a members-only forum, additional resources
If you love the idea of dog buttons but aren’t quite sure how to get started, Talk To The Beans will show you how. The online speech button training program provides 12 training modules that include simple, easy-to-follow explanations and videos to guide you through each step, from choosing your first word to building a vocabulary. In the forum, members can ask questions, share experiences, and troubleshoot problems.
The program, which can be applied to any style of dog button, doesn’t just work for dogs. Cats, birds, guinea pigs and horses can also learn to use buttons using the Talk to the Beans method during daily 10- to 15-minute training sessions. The website also offers additional resources, peer-reviewed research on speech button training, and links to button users on social media.
FAQs about dog buttons
Do dog buttons work?
Yes. A dog can learn to communicate using buttons programmed with words.
Can dogs talk using buttons?
Yes, sort of. A dog can learn how to communicate using programmable buttons but their ability to “talk” is not the same as ours, Pathasarathy told Insider Reviews. “It is unlikely that dogs understand human language in the same way that we understand human language,” she said. “Dogs learn that certain words are associated with certain activities, situations or items.”
How many words can a dog learn?
Current research suggests that the average dog can learn around 160 words.
Can cats learn to use dog buttons?
Yes, though no formal research has been done on the topic. “Cats are as good at making associations as dogs so it stands to reason that they can also learn to use the buttons and associate them with certain situations or activities,” explained Parthasarathy.
Do dogs need buttons to learn words?
No. If you’ve trained your dog to sit, come, or stay, you’ve already taught them to recognize human language. “Dogs also learn words and phrases that are associated with certain outcomes such as [when] ‘do you want to go out’ equals being let outside or ‘dinnertime’ means food will be put in the bowl,” said Parthasarathy.
How do I teach my dog to talk using dog buttons?
Before your pet can learn how to communicate using dog buttons, they have to learn how to push the button with their paw or nose, said Scott. Begin by recording a word like “treat” on a button. Press the button to make the word sound, then immediately reward your dog.
Repeat this 10 to 20 times so your dog associates the pressing of the button with the treat, then wait in front of the button for your dog to begin exploring it. If they make a movement toward the button, even if they don’t manage to activate it, quickly press the button yourself and reward them with a treat. Eventually, they’ll hit the button on their own. Each time they do, immediately reward them with a treat. When you’re not training, put the button away so that your dog doesn’t become frustrated when pushing it doesn’t result in a treat.
Once your dog understands the concept of pushing the button, you can begin pairing it with objects and actions that appear in their everyday life. “Some of the easiest behaviors to teach first would be patterns of routines you already have set in your life,” explained Scott. Some good words to start with include “outside,” “food,” and “play”.
Both repetition and reinforcement are essential to your dog learning a new word. If you want to teach the word “outside,” for example, record the word on a button and place it by the door. Ask your dog to press the button, then immediately open the door to let them out. If your dog loves to go out, the action acts as positive reinforcement. But, if it’s not an activity they love, offer them a treat after they’ve gone through the door. Repeat the sequence every time you go to let your dog out. In time, they will understand that pushing the button opens the door and will begin to do it on their own.
While it’s much harder for dogs to learn more abstract concepts like emotions, dog buttons can be used to address some problem behaviors, according to Scott and Parthasarathy. “Using these buttons can potentially be helpful in cases where a dog uses an undesired behavior such as barking at their guardian to obtain something they want,” said Parthasarathy. The button doesn’t have to be pressed by the dog in order to be useful, said Scott. A shy dog who’s startled by sudden movement, for example, might appreciate a warning that you are about to stand up from your desk. Pressing a button that says something like “up” before you stand lets them know what’s about to happen.