Word buttons are quickly becoming essential to any pet-loving household. Learn how you can teach them their first three words as they develop an understanding of what their buttons are for, and how they can be used.
The first word you should train your dog to understand and eventually use is OUTSIDE. For this word, you will not only be training your dog to associate the word with the concept of outside, but you’ll also be introducing them to the concept of a button they can push to express a need or want.
For the first few weeks, you will simply want to model the button use for them, pressing their OUTSIDE button each time you take your dog outside with you, as well as each time you allow them out alone. You should also be sure to repeatedly say the word verbally. For example, you could ask them excitedly, "do you want to go outside?? Let's go outside!" While they're watching, press their OUTSIDE button, and then immediately take them outside.
Next, begin encouraging them to press their OUTSIDE button themselves. If they weren't familiar with the word before, which, let's be honest, is quite unlikely — they will certainly recognize it now. Like you've been doing, ask them verbally if they want to go outside. They'll be excitedly waiting for you to push the button, since they now expect an OUTSIDE button press to be the last thing they witness before they're out the door.
However, at this step, instead of pressing the button yourself, wait to see what they do. There is a small chance they will know right away to push the button for the desired outcome of going outside, but they'll probably need some help at first. Try gesturing to the button while using the word verbally. If this doesn't work, place a treat on top of their button to impress its significance to your dog. If they accidentally trigger their OUTSIDE button while gobbling up their treat, immediately open the door for them to enforce association between the button press (even if accidental) and going outside. If they don't press it on their own, press it for them, let them outside, and try again next time.
Getting your dog to press the button will take time, patience, and love, so don't be discouraged if they don't seem to be getting it at first. When they finally do press it, be sure to reward them with a treat, or whatever else they are motivated by, as you're letting them outside.
Finally, begin requiring them to press their OUTSIDE button before being let out, but continue to model button use yourself when you go out together. Your dog will likely use the OUTSIDE button a lot to ask to go potty, and so it is important that you show them that OUTSIDE is a word button with broader application than this.
ALL DONE is a good choice for your dog's second word. While training them to use ALL DONE, keep in mind that you are also introducing them to the idea that different buttons mean different things. Establishing this is important, and it is why you won't find a food-associated button on this list of first words. If their first button is associated with food, they will get frustrated and lose patience when the second button doesn't produce the same outcome.
To model use of their ALL DONE button, begin pressing OUTSIDE and then ALL DONE each time your dog returns inside. You may also press their ALL DONE button when they finish meals, so as not to confuse them into thinking it means "indoors." The goal is to get them to understand that ALL DONE signifies the end of something.
If your dog presses their OUTSIDE button very soon after returning inside, use their buttons to tell them OUTSIDE ALL DONE. At this point, do not worry about your dog using the ALL DONE button. If anything, it will be good to establish that the buttons are not just another trick for your dog to perform, get a treat, and be called a good boy/girl. Instead, their speech board is a means of two-way communication with their favorite human(s).
PLAY, your dog’s third word, is rather straightforward to teach once they have a good handle on the concepts of OUTSIDE and ALL DONE. Like OUTSIDE, you’ll want to start by modeling use of your dog’s PLAY button. To do this, start by simply pressing their PLAY button repeatedly each time you play indoors together.
After a few days of this, add another step: before you play, ask them verbally in an excited tone if they want to play. Once you have their heart racing and their tail wagging, press the PLAY button and begin playing with them. When playtime is over, press PLAY then ALL DONE. After pressing ALL DONE, immediately turn your attention away from your dog, perhaps focusing on something else like your phone or laptop to indicate that you are no longer available.
Later, like in the previous step, ask your dog verbally in an excited tone if they want to play; however, unlike the previous step, you will require that they press their PLAY button before any of the fun can commence. As with OUTSIDE, it is perfectly normal for them not to understand right away, In this case, continue to model use of their PLAY button and try again the next day.
Once your dog learns the power of their PLAY button, oblige their requests as often as you possibly can. For times when you absolutely can’t make yourself available, you can tell them ALL DONE PLAY, but really do try to reward use of their PLAY button as much as you can.
At this stage, you can experiment with combining the PLAY and OUTSIDE buttons for your dog to ask to, you guessed it — play outside. It is possible that your dog will do this on their own, in which case you should heap on the praise and be a little extra generous with treats. This is because combining words demonstrates a basic understanding of what their speech buttons are for, what they mean, and how they can be leveraged for more effective communication.
As you get your dog talking with buttons, always remember to be patient. Not all dogs are motivated by the same things, and not all dogs will hit different milestones at the same time. And this is okay! As they say, practice makes perfect.
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