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As button dogs gain popularity on social media platforms like TikTok, there’s a growing debate around whether dogs can truly “speak” by tapping buttons with prerecorded words. Button dogs, known for their ability to seemingly communicate with their owners by pressing buttons associated with specific words, are now the subject of scientific research to determine the extent of their comprehension.

Owners can purchase button sets and soundboards for their pets, with prices ranging from $30 for a starter kit to $230 for a complete set. Videos of button dogs have become a popular genre on social media, and the hashtag #dogbuttons has received over 102.8 million views on TikTok.

However, animal behavior experts question what the dogs are really “saying” and whether the words hold the same meaning for dogs as they do for humans. Amritha Mallikarjun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that humans may ascribe too much meaning to dogs’ use of buttons.

Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, director of the Thinking Dog Center at Hunter College, believes that dogs have always been “talking” to us, but humans haven’t been “listening.” She acknowledges that dogs can form associations between button presses and outcomes, but questions if there’s more to it than that.

A large study currently underway at the University of California, San Diego, led by Federico Rossano, aims to determine if the buttons enable dogs to communicate meaningfully. The study is in partnership with FluentPet, a company that produces and sells buttons and soundboards, but is not funding the study. Over 10,000 dogs from 47 countries have been registered for the study, with a smaller subset having cameras in their homes to capture their button behavior.

The researchers plan to visit the dogs and run tests to establish if they are actually communicating or randomly pressing buttons. Results are expected by the end of the year.

Clive Wynne, founding director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, believes that only a small minority of dogs can use the buttons to communicate. He cites “Chaser,” the border collie who knew about 1,200 words but didn’t use buttons.

While experts acknowledge that there’s much to learn, engaging with the buttons can be enriching for both humans and their pets. Byosiere encourages owners to interact and better understand their dogs, stating, “So, button-push away.”

Animals Are My Favorite People by Tiny Rescue: Animal Collection

Animals Are My Favorite People by Tiny Rescue: Animal Collection

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