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Dog translators: what is your pooch trying to tell you?

Dogs are the best companions and confidants we could ever hope for. Many of us dog owners talk to our dogs on a daily basis. Having a chat with your dog is actually a great form of bonding and most dogs love the interaction with their humans. Not only that, but talking to your dog can actually boost serotonin and improve your mental health. Dogs can also act as furry therapists for those just looking for someone to talk to about their problems. Which is great because dogs are probably the least judgmental creatures on earth!

But wouldn’t it be great if our dogs could talk back? Well it turns out that they might actually be able to! Dog to human translators help owners figure out what their dog is trying to say. Could having a two way conversation with your dog really be possible?

Woman petting Beagle outside at a picnic

How do dog translators work?

Dog to human translators work a little bit different than language translators for humans. Rather than translating verbal language, the dog translator focuses on image or video footage of behavioral cues to translate what your dog is trying to say. No brain imaging or brain scanners required here, translator apps eliminate the need to purchase a special translation device. Most dog translators are so simple to use that they can be downloaded straight onto your smartphone so that you can easily communicate with your beloved animal! 

There are a number of dog translators that are actually developed by pet behaviorists and experts in animal communication. Afterall, the way that dogs communicate is primarily through their body language! In that way, human language varies greatly from pet language and animal cognition. 

One biologist and animal behaviorist, Con Slobodchikoff, is actually working on developing a dog to human translator that is based on research conducted on prairie dogs. The research showed that by identifying differences between prairie dog alarm calls, the scientists were able to distinguish what the prairie dogs were communicating down to predator specifics including size, type and even the color of the predatory animal. With such positive results from their study, Slobodchikoff is working on adapting the technology for dog to human communication. Using video data, the technology should be able to collect enough information on dog body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations to input the information into an algorithm in order to decipher what your dog is saying.

There are subtle changes in a dog’s behavior that people don’t always pick up on and could actually be a major indicator of how your dog is feeling, whether that’s anxious, happy or hungry. Therefore, dog translators are not necessarily a translation of what your dog is saying so much as what your dog is feeling.

Dog to human translators work by using your cellphone to capture adorable video images of your dog while you are talking to or interacting with them. The website or app translator then uses this information to compare it with behavioral data encoded into the technology to generate an verbal language response on how your dog is feeling in that given moment. 

Small brown and white dog staring at owner while taking a photo

Do dog translators actually work?

Much like human psychology, the science of dog behavior is ever changing and very open to interpretation. Even in human communication, there is often a language barrier when communicating with someone who speaks another language. This means that when you take into account the margin of error for technology mistakes and the subjectivity of behavior interpretation, the translation may not always be 100% accurate. This is also reflected in the ratings of each of these apps, which are generally pretty low. Regardless, a dog to human translator is still a fun piece of tech that owners can play around with and is relatively user friendly, even if the response is not an actual translation.

Dog translator apps

To see what your doggo is thinking, check out some of these paw-tastic apps and websites!

Training your dog to talk with buttons

If you’re looking for a more hands on approach to communicating with your pooch, consider teaching your dog how to use talking buttons. Popularized by the Tiktok sensation Whataboutbunny, talking buttons have become a rather reliable way to communicate with your dog. 

This technology has been adapted for dogs from the human method of using talking buttons to communicate with non-verbal individuals. Buttons are recorded with a specific word and dogs are trained to associate the word with a specific action or noun. By pressing buttons onto which a word has been recorded, dogs can learn to communicate in simple phrases. 

The process usually starts small with 2 or 3 buttons and then dogs can grow their vocabulary depending on their rate of success. This system of dog to human translation was actually developed by a cognitive scientist and owner of talking button company, Fluent Pet. 

How to train your dog to use talking buttons

Like any form of training, a positive reinforcement approach is always the best! Find out what motivates your dog. This could be toys, food, praise or even just a pat on the head. Use this to reward them for a desired behavior, in this case correctly associating the right talking button to the word they want to communicate.

  1. Begin your training process by picking up some talking buttons. Since its viral popularity online, talking buttons have become pretty readily available for purchase. Check out Insider’s article for a list of the best talking buttons!
  2. Start by selecting words that your dog already has an association with. Make sure to use words that make them happy or they enjoy. For example, your dog’s first word could be “potty”. This is likely a word that they already know and associate with going outside. Record the word and place the button in a central location in your home that is easy for your dog to get to.
  3. Following the potty example, press the “potty” button and reward your dog every time you take them out to the bathroom. The goal isn’t to force your dog to push the buttons but for them to learn how to mirror your actions. The key to success in this step and in any training is patience and consistency.
  4. After several repetitions of the button pushing and action, your dog will begin to mirror your action by pressing the button to be let outside to potty. At this point give them lots of praise and positive reinforcement. Immediately follow up by doing the associated action, in this case taking them out to potty.
  5. Once your dog begins to master one button, you can begin to add more with different words and commands. The success of talking buttons really varies depending on the dog and dedication to training. 

Hopefully these tips and tricks help you better communicate with your pup. We’re sure that your dog must have lots to say. Just remember that dogs are a different species and their understanding of what you’re trying to communicate might not always be correct either. 

Got your dog talking? Share it with us on Instagram! Hopefully your dog doesn’t get too chatty or Fido might spill all your secrets!

Little girl whispering secrets to her chihuahua
Little girl whispering secrets to her chihuahua

View Sources

AKC. “Dog to human translators” (2018). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/dog-to-human-translator/ 

Hindustan Times. “Couple tries a dog translator app on their two dogs. Watch hilarious reactions” (2022). https://www.hindustantimes.com/trending/couple-tries-a-dog-translator-app-on-their-two-dogs-watch-hilarious-reactions-101646113466534.html 

Insider. “Best talking buttons”. (2021). https://www.insider.com/guides/pets/best-dog-buttons#the-best-dog-buttons-overall-1 

AKC.”How to Teach Your Dog to “Talk” Using Buttons” (2021). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-teach-your-dog-to-talk/ 

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