The decision to empower your pet with speech is huge—it will forever change their world and yours. But your dog or cat won't master their word board overnight. It's going to take patience and a whole lot of love.
We've laid out a few stepping stones to help you map out the very beginning of your pet's journey to communicating with buttons. Your pet's learning process might look a little different, as every dog and every cat is unique. However, much like human language development in early childhood, there are reliable benchmarks you can compare against to ensure your pet is on the right path.
Stepping Stone 1: Introducing the Buttons
Straight out of the box, the communication buttons will be foreign to your pet. Your learner will have no understanding of how to use or press a button. At this stage, your goal is to get them to press the button independently.
A good way to introduce the buttons is to place one near to what it refers to. For example, you could put an "outside" button by the door. Whenever you're about to take your pet outside, press the button with your foot. Remember, the goal here is to show your pet that the button represents something.
Stepping Stone 2: Independent Button Use
At this stage, your pet has learned that when they press a button, it will trigger a response from you. They might not know exactly what the button represents, but this is okay. Keep rewarding them for using it appropriately.
Tip: NEVER use hand-over-paw modeling. This will confuse your pet, and is counterintuitive to the idea that the buttons are theirs to express themselves with.
Stepping Stone 3: Situationally Appropriate Button Use
The third stepping stone in your pet's journey to communicating through language is regular and appropriate use of the button(s) you've taught them to use. If they are pressing "outside" when they want to go outside, or as you're taking them outside, your dog has reached this stepping stone. They may also press it when they go back in, or if they see something of interest outside like a squirrel.
At this stage, your pet is ready to learn their next word.
Stepping Stone 4: Eager to Learn
Your dog has reached stepping stone 4 when you are modeling multiple words for them, and they show interest while you do so. They might not show much understanding of what each of the new words mean, but they know they mean something.
At stepping stone 4, your dog is eager to learn new words, deciphering what they could mean by observing you. They've been shown the power of knowing one word, so it only makes sense that they're curious to learn more!
Stepping Stone 5: Appropriate Use of Multiple Buttons
At stepping stone 5, your pet is purposefully using multiple buttons to express their needs, wants, and observations. Your pet understands that each button represents a different idea, and knows they'll be able to communicate a new one when they see you setting up a new button.
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