- Stella the dog has the incredible ability to communicate with her humans by using a custom soundboard that her mom, Christina Hunger, created.
- Hunger, a speech pathologist, has been working to help Stella understand words. She says Stella currently knows 29 words and can group certain words together to create sentences.
- Eventually, Hunger would like to publish her research and work with other dogs and pet owners to continue breaking barriers in interspecies communication.
Christina Hunger is living every kid's—and adult's—dream: She can talk to her dog, and her dog can talk back.
The speech language pathologist lives in San Diego with her Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, Stella, and has used her expertise to teach the pup how to communicate. So far, the results are astonishing:
"This has definitely surpassed my expectations," Hunger tells Popular Mechanics. "I'm so excited and so inspired."
Hunger began working on Stella's communication when the dog was just two months old. Stella proved she was a quick learner when she used her very first word the next month.
Stella currently knows 29 words and is able to tell her parents when she wants to play, go outside, and drink water. She's even able to express when she's feeling affectionate with a "love you."
So how does Stella communicate? She uses a soundboard that Hunger created with buttons she ordered off of Amazon. Each button has a fixed spot on the board that corresponds to a word or short phrase, like "beach" and "all done." Hunger says Stella has memorized where each word is and moves to tap the buttons depending on what she needs.
Recently, Stella had a bit of a breakthrough when she was able to formulate a sentence, respond to one of Hunger's questions, and reconfirm what she needed—all in one go:
"I see how transformative it is to work with people, especially young children [with speech issues], and I saw Stella understanding social cues and language and so I thought, she just needs the right tools," Hunger says.
Stella first tried using the soundboard this past January, but didn't immediately take to it ... or so Hunger thought. In a post on her blog, Hunger For Words, Hunger writes:
When I programmed Stella’s first button and modeled use of it by pushing it with my foot at the appropriate times, it appeared like Stella wasn’t doing anything for the first couple of weeks. But I was so wrong! She was listening and watching me...Throughout that [third] week, Stella started approaching the button, nudging it, standing by it, then eventually pushed it all on her own.
Stella has since memorized where the words are on the board, and she knows when to use which ones. (Her first word? "Outside.") "It’s been a gradual progression," Hunger says.
"I think this could open the door for people to explore [communicating with] so many different animals," she adds.
Hunger has sights on eventually publishing her research and hopes to work with other dogs and pet owners to continue breaking barriers in interspecies communication.
"I want to keep working with Stella, and once we reach a point where she begins to plateau in her learning, I want to focus on other dogs by either working with their owners in a lab or in a school," Hunger says.
To replicate Hunger's experiment, visit her blog for tips and additional resources. Here are the buttons she uses to chat with Stella:
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