Fido finds his voice: communicating with canines

WGEM News at Five
Updated: Nov. 29, 2022 at 5:39 PM CST
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (WGEM) --- Fetch, sit, stay, rollover … if you’ve ever tried to teach your dog these commands, you know it can be a tedious job. Now imagine teaching your dog to use words and phrases to ask for what they want and share with you how they feel. One of the largest studies of its kind is underway to prove dogs can communicate.

Meet Stella, a spunky blue heeler-catahoula mix. Her dog mom … Christina Hunger, a speech-language pathologist, is making headlines around the world after teaching Stella to use augmentative and alternative communication devices to express herself.

Stella’s learned 50 words and can create phrases up to five words long but stella is not the only dog.

UCSD Cognitive Scientist, Federico Rossano, is leading the largest animal communication citizen science study ever done. It’s called, “How They Can Talk” and involves 6,000 animals in 47 countries.

Rossano explains, “What we are trying to do is trying to understand to what degree they can communicate more complex thoughts. The first time I saw them putting together three, four buttons to sound like a sentence, I was pretty impressed and shocked.” “What amazed me more was when they would follow up on that because it then really felt like they were actually engaging in a conversation.”

Rossano also says “The other thing that I thought was remarkable was really to see them communicating about the needs of somebody else.”

The time it takes for a dog to learn to talk depends on how much time their human puts into teaching them. But Rossano believes the time spent could lead us all to a better understanding of our furry friends.

Cats are also included in the study, although Professor Rossano says they are much harder to train. We also asked if one breed was a better learner than others. He said their study involved a lot of mixed breeds, but border collies, poodles and terriers seem to all be quick learners, with some learning not just dozens, but hundreds of words. But again, it all depends on how much time their owners put in to teaching them.

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