Bunny and his owner Alexis Devine. Picture: Instagram.
Bunny and his owner Alexis Devine. Picture: Instagram.

Talking dog wows the internet

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Jul 2, 2021

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Bunny the talking dog is baffling scientists and amazing her TikTok followers as they follow her amazing journey online.

Have you ever looked into the eyes of your family pet and wished you could read their mind?

Or perhaps, like most pet parents, you’ve longed for a way to tell your favourite furry friend just how much you love them.

For Alexis Devine, a 40-year old artist and jewellery designer based in Tacoma, Washington, it’s possible.

Devine’s TikTok videos featuring her almost-two-year-old sheepadoodle named Bunny, have received viral attention across multiple platforms.

Using a selection of buttons with pre-recorded phrases, the shaggy-haired dog is able to push on them with her paws and convey her wants, needs and emotions.

From adorable affirmations like “love you” to existential questions like “why dog?” hinting at the possibility of some degree of self-awareness, the level at which Bunny communicates is capturing the attention of the world.

The videos are such a marvel, the duo has gained an audience of over 6.6 million followers.

Perhaps it was the way her ears would twitch when being showered with praise or the way she tilted her head when given instructions, whatever it was, Devine seemed to instinctively know that Bunny was destined to communicate with people on a far more complex level. In the month’s leading up to Bunny’s arrival, Devine made sure to do her research too, reading everything she could on canine cognition and training.

While scouring the web, Devine came across a speech pathologist, Christina Hunger.

This is how she came to learn about ‘soundboards’, a tool used to develop an English vocabulary with dogs.

The contraption can be personalised and contains circular buttons that play words and sounds when pushed.

In her work as a speech pathologist, Hunger used augmentative communication (AAC) devices to aid non-verbal children with their communication skills.

This is a similar technology that she has created for her pet using a four-pack of recordable answer buzzers which she bought online.

On Instagram, Hunger declared that her passion for dogs and language is what spurred her on.

“Inspired by my passion for AAC, and by my love of dogs, I’m showing the world what dogs can say when given the opportunity to learn,” she said.

Today, her chocolate-coated pooch is able to tap away at an array of buttons to string together loosely structured sentences.

Beginning with the words “outside”, Hunger placed the button near the front door and taught Stella how to use it.

In no time, the pup was house trained and was able to use the button as a signal.

Today, Stella makes use of over 45 buttons to voice her daily thoughts, feelings and requests, while Bunny has learnt around 90 plus words in her training alongside Devine.

One stand out moment that Devine managed to capture with Bunny played out as follows:

"Mad."

“Why mad?” Devine asks.

“Ouch.”

“Where is your ouch? Where ouch?” Devine says.

“Stranger, paw,” answers back.

“Let me see your paw,” Devine says, only to discover a thorn.

Dogs and humans have a long history that delves 27 000 to 40 000 years back, during the ice age.

Hunter-gatherers had a surplus of meat that was more than what could be eaten so they shared the excess with wolves.

As a result, the animals soon became domesticated, forming a bond.

Today, dogs have evolved to become one of man’s greatest companions in life, being trained in the military, as service animals, in search-and-rescue and numerous other avenues.

From this, it’s evident that dogs have learnt to respond to the teachings of humans by grasping the message behind certain body language, gestures, tone and commands.

Nevertheless many people, scientists included, are sceptical of Bunny and Stella’s capabilities.

But, according to the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, scientists have discovered evidence that dogs possess language processing abilities that enable them to have a basic understanding of the words taught to them by humans.

Claudia Fugazza, a researcher in animal behaviour said in an article published by The New York Times that “Domestication is likely to have affected dogs’ brain positions so they can interact and socialize with humans better.

“They are probably more predisposed to interact with humans as social partners.”

So, whether these two magnificent dogs can actually “talk” remains to be confirmed, but one thing is for certain, researchers will continue to do studies and follow the dogs closely, along with their millions of fans from across the globe.

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