Are there any animals that can learn to talk with buttons like the “talking” dog Bunny?

It’s no secret that the Internet has been captivated by Bunny the talking dog.

In case you’ve been into digital detox for the past few years, Bunny is TikTok’s beloved “talking” Sheepadoodle who uses augmented and alternative communication (AAC) devices to communicate with child parents. her people. As Salon reported, Bunny has stunned her followers by seemingly ask existential questions, remember her dreamsand wonder about Uni, the cat she lives with person has gone missing. Indeed, it’s not just Bunny anymore. There are also Billiard, a 13-year-old domestic cat in Florida, has captured the internet’s attention by pressing buttons to communicate.

Both animals are enrolled in one plan called TheyCanTalk, is looking to better understand whether animals can use the AAC system to communicate with humans. The project includes dogs, cats, a troupe of ponies and a pony. In the study, participants received instructions on how to set up their AAC nodes. They often begin with easy-to-understand words like “outside” and “play” associated with their buttons. Pet parents set up cameras to continuously monitor the animals while they are in front of their boards, the data being sent to a lab, where researchers test what they say.

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As popularity continues to grow thanks to social media and these talking animals, some may wonder: is there any animal that can learn to talk using an AAC device?

“Certainly when we started working on this, I expected that we would see that the dogs would do surprisingly well, but I didn’t expect that we would see that much in the future. great performance by non-dogs,” says Leo Trottier, cognitive scientist and founder Research how .yCanTalk and the developer of the FluentPet system that Bunny and Billi use. “Dogs have been known to evolve with us for thousands of years. We have engaged in active selective breeding with them. Their behavior is obvious; they are very interested in us, they often often look us in the eye when we talk to them. are known to be able to recognize the last shown pointing gestures, so I was surprised to see how cats perform.”

Indeed, as Salon previously reported, Billi speaks up to 50 words. And while there are some anecdotal differences between how cats and dogs use buttons, the fact that a non-canine species is having such success with them makes Trottier confident that perhaps any animal can. can use them.

“We have birds using them. The evidence on birds is pretty limited, but I’m not going to remove them, but I do think the evidence of cats using the button is fixed or in a way that’s consistent with that.” context will be stronger for birds,” Trottier said. “But it seems surprising that many non-canine species seem to be able to do this better than expected.”

While Trottier admits he’s not “reptile optimist,” the surprising fact that a non-canine species seems to work better with buttons than expected raises new questions about animals. objects, language and communication. The reason why animals don’t speak like humans is partly down to speech anatomy: they may lack the flexibility of their tongue to speak, vocal cords or mouth muscles. According to a 2018 study published Frontiers in neuroscience The power of the brain also enables people to speak. But that doesn’t mean animals don’t communicate in their own way, or are capable of mimicking human voices. Research published in 2018 discovered that orca whales can mimic words like “hello” and “goodbye”. 2016 showed that an orangutan can copy the pitch and tone of sound made by researchers.

AAC devices were created to help people who have difficulty expressing their natural voice. If animals are having difficulty, can animals use AAC to express themselves? Indeed, this is exactly what inspired Christina Hunger, a speech-language pathologist who famously taught her dog Stella how to use the AAC device. There have been some clues that non-canines and cats will be successful using AAC – like bottlenose dolphins Press a paddle to single “yes”.

Trottier said seeing cats succeed using AAC equipment “refined” the questions: “What impact does co-evolution have? And what interferes with non-human language usage? people?”

Similar but slightly different buttons could be a means of becoming something “language-friendly”, Trottier says.

“Because that’s how words are called, words are things we share with each other, both are very similar, they are all just sounds, made by our lips, but they are also slightly different, right?” Trottier said. “And so it may be the case that the main obstacle to language use in non-human animals – well, there will obviously be general intelligence – but it may be the case that language language is somewhat independent and depends on some kind of unique cognitive ability that nodes may allow.”

Read more about how pets communicate: Are there any animals that can learn to talk with buttons like the “talking” dog Bunny?

Caroline Bleakley

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