+
Speech pathologist teaches her dog to use a soundboard and now it communicates in sentences
via Hunger 4 Words / Instagram

This article originally appeared on 11.08.19


Christina Hunger, 26, is a speech-language pathologist in San Diego, California who believes that "everyone deserves a voice."

Hunger works with one- and two-year-old children, many of which use adaptive devices to communicate. So she wondered what would happen if she taught her two-month-old puppy, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler named Stella, to do the same.

"If dogs can understand words we say to them, shouldn't they be able to say words to us? Can dogs use AAC to communicate with humans?" she wondered.


Hunger and her fiancé Jake started simply by creating a button that said "outside" and then pressed it every time they said the word or opened the door. After a few weeks, every time Hunger said "outside," Stella looked at the button.

Soon, Stella began to step on the button every time she wanted to go outside.

They soon added more buttons that say "eat," "water," "play," "walk," "no," "come," "help," "bye," and "love you."

"Every day I spent time using Stella's buttons to talk with her and teach her words just as I would in speech therapy sessions with children," she wrote on her blog.

"Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly. Stella's voice and opinions matter just as our own do," she continued.

If Stella's water bowl is empty, she says "water." If she wants to play tug of war, she says, "play." She even began to tell friends "bye" if they put on their jackets by the door.

Stella soon learned to combine different words to make phrases.

One afternoon, shortly after daylight savings, she began saying "eat" at 3:00 pm. When Hunger didn't respond with food, she said, "love you no" and walked out of the room.

Today, Stella has learned over 29 words and can combine up to five at a time to make a phrase or sentence.

"The way she uses words to communicate and the words she's combining is really similar to a 2-year-old child," Hunger says of her blog.

She believes her work has the potential to transform the bond between humans and dogs.

"I think how important dogs are to their humans," Hunger says. "I just imagine how much deeper the bond will be."

Stella asks to play ball outside.

Stella clearly wants some more breakfast.

After a fun day at the beach, Stella wants to go back.

Login • Instagram

Stella telling Hunger that she doesn't want her to leave to work.

Login • Instagram



Soon, Stella began to step on the button every time she wanted to go outside.

They soon added more buttons that say "eat," "water," "play," "walk," "no," "come," "help," "bye," and "love you."

"Every day I spent time using Stella's buttons to talk with her and teach her words just as I would in speech therapy sessions with children," she wrote on her blog.

"Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly. Stella's voice and opinions matter just as our own do," she continued.

If Stella's water bowl is empty, she says "water." If she wants to play tug of war, she says, "play." She even began to tell friends "bye" if they put on their jackets by the door.



Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Some cries for help can be hard to discern.

“I’m fine.”

How easily these two words slip from our mouths, often when nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes, it feels safer to hide our true feelings, lest someone make a judgment or have a negative reaction. Other times, it’s a social rule instilled in childhood, perhaps even through punishment. Or maybe denying is the only way to combat overwhelm—if we ignore it all long enough, things will eventually get better anyway.

At the end of the day … it’s all about avoiding further pain, isn’t it?

But this denial can lead to even more suffering—not only emotionally, but physically as well. Everything from stiff muscles, to migraines, to digestive issues can stem from suppressing emotions.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Little girl sings Selena's ‘Como La Flor’ and wows the late singer's widower

'It's good to see someone like her, who will be the next Selena in so many ways.'

Little girl sings Selena's "Como La Flor."

Selena Quintanilla Pérez is so well-known that she's best recognized simply as "Selena," the same way people refer to Madonna.

Nearly 30 years after her untimely death, parents are passing the music of Selena onto their children and creating a new generation of fans. And in the age of social media, that means the new waves of fans are creating videos singing the icon's hits. In a video clip uploaded to Instagram and TikTok, 10-year-old Mariapaula Mazon gets up on stage to belt out "Como La Flor."

Keep ReadingShow less

This dad exemplifies stellar parenting.

As a parent, it's not always easy to know how to help your kids learn from life experiences. Some lessons they learn naturally and others they learn through parental guidance, but discerning which is which and how those things overlap can be challenging.

Kids don't come with instruction manuals, of course, but sometimes we see examples of great parenting we can point to and say, "AHA! That's how it's done."

One such example comes from a dad named Robert. He's been teaching his 5-year-old daughter Aubrin to skateboard and set up a mini half pipe for her to learn on. In a video on Instagram, Robert shared his interchanges with Aubrin after she crashed hard on the ramp during a lesson.

Keep ReadingShow less