When last we left our intrepid heroine and her faithful, hopeful human, we had unboxed the FluentPet kit, and read all the instructions, ready to teach Max How To Speak – or at least, use buttons to tell me what she wanted what she really really wanted.
The first part of Operation Button Speak went according to plan. I chose two words to start with – “toy” and “out.” Max knows both in context, so the trick would be teaching her that she could create the context (ask for the thing). Basically, this was going to involve a lot of association, repetition, and rewarding.
It went well.
The next step was to introduce Max to the buttons.
Me holding the button, pressing it to hear the recording of the word, and then associating an act with the action? No problem. Max knew exactly what was going on.
Max pressing the button?
Houston, we have a problem. Max Does Not Like The Clicky Thing.
And I don’t mean, “she was suspicious of it” or “it scared her a little” and she’ll get over it the same way she did puppy gates and garbage trucks. I mean, she would see it on the floor, and detour the long way around the apartment to avoid it. Immediate, unequivocal Do. Not. Like. Not with her paw, not with her nose – and this is a dog who will happily “touch” anything I point her at, while we’re on walks. Not even her beloved trainer, S., could get her to go near the button except under mild duress. And we worked too long and hard to ease her stress reactivity, to intentionally add any to her life.
Okay, Max. Okay.
I’m not giving up, though. The buttons remain on the floor. We’re ignoring them for now. Maybe, eventually, she will decide they’re harmless. Or maybe she will never trust them enough to use, and we’ll pass them along to someone else. Am I disappointed? Yeah, a little. But the thing about dogs, as with all living things we let into our lives, is that you need to love them for who they are, not who you wanted them to be. And Max? Is not a button-pusher.
But she’s definitely a word-learner. She may not “say” them, but her comprehension library is growing – and she’s understanding complex commands. I’ve already learned more about her than I knew before, how she thinks and reacts, so in that sense this was a successful experiment. So we’re going to lean into her strengths, and see where it goes. Updates as they happen, I guess.
Meanwhile, it was suggested that I try the buttons with Castiel. Um, er, no. My cat already speaks his mind He doesn’t need any help.