Stella, a Catahoula and blue heeler mix, can communicate in sentences thanks to her guardian Christina Hunger, a San Diego-based speech pathologist.
Hunger teaches young children to interact with help from adaptive devices using a method called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Her profession inspired her to try a similar approach with Stella, then a 2-month-old pup.
“Since dogs can understand words, could Stella use an AAC device to express herself the same way my patients did?” she wondered.
The pet parent started Stella’s lessons with a few simple buttons that conveyed words like “outside,” “play,” and “water,” using the same teaching strategies she used with children. Hunger taught Stella to press the buttons that correspond with her needs and desires.
Soon enough, the clever canine pressed the “outside” button whenever she wanted to go outside.
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Now two years old, the spunky canine has mastered more than 45 words that she combines to form phrases of as many as five words to ask and answer questions, express her feelings and thoughts, discuss her observations, and engage in short conversations, Hunger said.
Since Stella’s success first made headlines in 2019, Hunger has expanded her work to help other dogs learn how to “speak.”
“I was inspired by my passion for using technology and other adaptive equipment to help people communicate when speaking is difficult, as well as my desire for Stella to be understood, to see what would happen if I provided Stella with a way to say the words she was hearing and understanding,” Hunger wrote on her website Hunger for Words. “I strongly believe that everyone deserves to share their voice.”