How to Use Talking Buttons - Train a Cat to Use Talking Buttons
Cat talking buttons are taking cat-to-human communication to the next level as it allows our furry friends to tell us what they want in a way we can understand, with words!
Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world. And it's no wonder — they're independent, adorable, and fluffy killing machines. We brought cats into our lives as mousers, to prevent rodents from eating our livestock.
Today, cats make great companions for people of all ages, and there are many reasons for adopting cats as pets. Households consider pets (particularly cats and dogs) as family members.
Clicker training opened the doors to human-to-cat communication and communicating buttons are elevating talking to our animal roomates to the next level.
We treat our cats as if they were one of our own. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could communicate with them?
How Do Cat Talking Buttons Work?
Positive reinforcement allows pet owners to tell their cats and dogs what we expect from them and because if we reward behaviors that we desire, our cats will learn to perform those good behaviors more often.
Cats are not very talkative animals, they mostly communicate with meows only during the kitten stage. For us to understand what our cat wants, we need to pay close attention to their body language. Some indoor cats will retain the kitten talking behavior with their humans, which I find fascinating.
What are Talking Buttons?
As Fluentpet says on their website: "Button communication, a form of assistive language technology, can give your companion a voice and a way for them to understand you better too"
We love our pets and want to take care of them, but we can't understand their thoughts and meows! To bridge this radio silence between our pets, some pet parents have started using speech buttons with their dogs and cats.
The use of talking buttons is taking over the internet. It's every cat parent's dream... SPEAKING WITH YOUR CAT!
Billy speaks is one of the most famous talking animals in the world, and is learning more words quickly, with a massive board of different words, as you can see in the video below:
This is a soundboard that comprises different buttons from Fluentpet, each triggering an audio recording of a different word. By pressing the different buttons, Billi can communicate in human language. This started in May 2020, when the pandemic allowed Baker some spare time.
Cats have been able to share their thoughts and feelings with people by pressing pre-programmed buttons on the floor that were originally meant to be used as alternative communication by speech language pathologists. With time and patience, your cat will learn to share their requests, thoughts, and feelings.
Some cats and dogs have become incredibly successful at expressing their thoughts, going beyond needs and wants, and being able to express feelings or even the concept of time (now / later / today / earlier).
How do Talking Buttons Work?
Every button has a recorded word and a meaning. When that button is pressed, the button will produce a sound. We can train our cats to link the sound with a desire and later, to press the button and express their desire.
Your cat is trying to communicate with you most of the time through body language, as they do with other cats. In addition to that (and curiously enough, they only do it as kittens and with humans) through meowing.
Cat's meow for a variety of reasons:
- When they want attention
- To ask for food
- To be let out
- To complain about discomfort
However, it can be difficult to understand what your cat is saying. Using talking buttons can be helpful as your cat can clearly express what they want from us.
Talking buttons bridge the gap between the hard-to-read cat body language and our capacity to understand them.
Can Cats Learn to Use Talking Buttons?
Cats are intelligent animals, and they can learn to do many things. A cat can learn to use talking buttons; however, it may take some time to get used to it. Please make sure you are patient and keep rewarding them for their efforts.
While it may take some time for them to get used to it, with patience and rewards, they can learn how to do it. The average is around 3 months for a cat to create the association between the secondary reinforcer and the primary reinforcer. (Link the sound of the button with the reaction triggers).
If you're wondering whether cats can learn to use talking buttons, the answer is yes!
Remember that every cat is different, and therefore some may be more receptive to learning how to use talking buttons than others. However, it's certainly worth trying if you think your cat would enjoy using one to communicate with you!
How to teach a cat to use talking buttons?
Cats are very intelligent creatures and can learn to do many things, including talking with buttons.
Cats can learn in different ways but when using positive reinforcement, there are 3 main ways to train a cat, you can read more about it here:
- Marking: Reward behaviors that your cat is already displaying
- Luring: Using the treat to motivate the cat to move in certain ways
- Shaping: Use marking and luring in combination to create more complex behaviors hard to achieve only by marking or luring.
When we use the clicker, we will charge it so that the cat understands that a click comes with a reward. That is called pairing the secondary reinforcer with the primary reinforcer. In the case of the talking buttons, we are going to do the same: We are going to create an association of a certain button with a certain action.
An example of association could be the word OUTSIDE with OPENING THE PORCH DOOR.
Step 1 - Choose the words you want to teach your cat
Your cat is probably triggered already by a few words. Food, hungry, outside, and play are probably some of them.
Pay attention to the words or phrases that your cat can identify already and that trigger their curiosity or attention.
Start using these words more often when engaging in the behavior that you are trying to create the connection. For example, before opening the balcony, you can say "Let's go OUTDOORS" then when outside, you can say "We are OUTDOORS". If your cat is waiting by the door, you can ask: "Do you want to go OUTDOORS"? (I'm sure you get the point)
During this step, if your cat is trying to tell you something in a way that you already understand (by sitting in front of the door so you open it and they can go outdoors) honor your cat's way of communicating with you. Simply jot down the words that you want to introduce when responding to your cat's requests.
Once you have decided what words you are going to start teaching your cat first, record the buttons and choose a location.
Some learners absorb best when buttons are near the object or interaction they associate it with. Others find it easier when buttons are in one consolidated location. In the case of my cat Mia, proximity helps, so I would recommend you to leverage that proximity, for example, with an OUTSIDE button by the door or a WATER button by the water bowl.
Step 2 - Model how to use the talking buttons
After you've recorded your first buttons and you've chosen the place where they will sit, you need to get your cat to press the buttons.
Model the word you've decided to teach in 2 ways always:
- Saying the word/phrase
- Pressing the button
- Directing your cat's attention to the action
Let's use a practical example:
- "Do you want to go OUTSIDE?"
- Press the "OUTSIDE" button
- Then open the door
Some cats will struggle to pay attention to the buttons or will be inaccurate at pressing them. Target training them to touch the buttons (luring) will help them understand that they have to pay attention and interact with them.
If you've never taught your cat to learn finger targetting, take a look at this video to learn how to teach it to your cat in less than 8 minutes.
I would recommend starting using a "TREAT" button. Get your cat to press the button using the "post-it" trick and then deliver the treat.
Once your cat is consistently pressing the button for a treat, you can start using it to communicate. For example, if you want your cat to understand "OUTSIDE", you can place the button near the door. When your cat presses other buttons around the house, for example, the "OUTSIDE" we just mentioned, open the door instead of giving a treat and your cat will start creating those associations.
TIP 1: Avoid using actual word buttons when target training, unless you can follow through with the button’s meaning. Otherwise, the button will only mean food to your cat and it's going to be hard to get them to unlearn that.
After your cat learns that buttons "mean" things, they will start engaging with them. Start with 1 to 3 buttons. Contrary to what common sense would say, some cats understand the meaning of the buttons faster when you have more than one.
TIP 2: Avoid starting with a "food" button if your learner is overly food motivated. They may associate the buttons as a way to get food rather than a communicative tool if that is their first button.
Step 3 - Repeat often and be patient
When learning any new language, beginnings can be hard. During the first months, your cat will be mostly observing and absorbing. This will be the first stage of learning and it can take up to 3 months. Don’t get discouraged, be consistent with your modeling:
- Saying the word/phrase
- Pressing the button
- Directing your cat's attention to the action
Cats and dogs that are already using talking buttons probably started at a very young age and many factors might be affecting their learning abilities. Your cat is unique and their learning speed is also going to be of their own. Avoid comparing your cat with other cats (particularly on social media) that are using buttons as well.
Prompt your cat casually to use the buttons. If they usually vocalize their needs or let you know they need you by looking, whining, or pawing you on the arm you can walk over and stand near the buttons to try to get them to engage with them.
TIP 3: Give them time to respond (for cats it can take up to 30 seconds to understand what you want). If you want to prompt more, pointing or tapping near the buttons are good ways to draw your cat's attention to them. If they don’t react after 30+ seconds, use the button yourself and answer their request afterward.
What Words Should You Teach Your Cat First?
You’re most likely completely aware of the little things that make your cat unique. As a cat parent, you certainly know most of your cat's quirks. Maybe they meow to ask for food or sit by the door to be let out after lunch. Maybe they wake you up at 5 AM for sleepy cuddles.
Cats will already recognize some words you speak the most. These are the words you’ll likely start with for button teaching: Words that you use often and that they get excited with.
The two first words that Mia learned with the buttons were:
- OUTSIDE - Open the balcony
- TRAIN - Grab treats and do clicker training
- HUNGRY - Feed a full meal
- PLAY - Grab a toy and play with her
- ALL DONE - When a task is finished
Teaching your cat some more advanced concepts should wait until your cat is comfortable with the words that you started with, otherwise they can get overwhelmed and start mixing concepts.
Some words to follow with are:
- LOVE YOU
Where to Buy Talking Buttons for a Cat?
You can buy a talking button online. One option is to look online at sites like Amazon or eBay.
I got mine from Fluent. pet, they are the first company that created Assistive Language Technology for pets but there are now cheaper more accessible options. This is why I believe they are the best talking buttons for cats.
You can also check with your local pet store to see if they sell them. Also, try looking for them at a store specializing in selling cat products.
The talking button for the cat is a great way to better understand your cat and keep them entertained. Improving communication will certainly help you bond with your cat.
Mia and I are just starting, but VERY excited about the journey. We look forward to updating you on our progress!
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia
Leave a comment