Illustration: Alex Eben Meyer for OneZero

After a TikTok Craze, Pet Owners Are Trying (and Often Failing) to Get Their Own Animals to Talk

One owner reported their bored dog simply lays on top of all their buttons and ‘just starts mashing them’

Steve Rousseau
Published in
8 min readJan 6, 2021

Over the past year, Stella, a Catahoula and blue heeler mix, and Bunny, a sheepadoodle, have amassed viral fame for using an array of recordable buttons to “talk” to their owners. Each button corresponds to a word, and dogs like Bunny are trained to press them to communicate with their people. Putting together sentences like “more scritches now,” and “all done outside. come eat,” the dogs have racked up millions of followers and even prompted serious scientific study into whether such tools could be used by animals to communicate complex thoughts.

Bunny and Stella have also inspired dog owners to teach their own pets to talk — with very mixed results. In communities like the “Exploring Canine & Feline AAC” Facebook group, some dog owners are celebrating their dog managing to hit a single button unprompted, while others are asking for help after seeing no progress after weeks or even months of training. One owner reported that their bored dog simply lays on top of all the buttons and “just starts mashing them,” while another commented that their dog starts “playing them like a piano.” Yet another pet owner said that their dog angrily hit their “all done” button when their owner was too loud on a Zoom call.

Some owners lament watching their dogs regress in their abilities after minor changes to button arrangements, which can cause some dogs to forget how to use them entirely. The usual response from other owners? Keep training, keep trying. And despite the regular frustration in these groups, those with a background in cognitive science and speech-language pathology believe that this Facebook group, and others like it, are the best way to figure out what’s going on here.

Meanwhile, some group members are training cats and even reptiles to use the buttons…