As much as Hollywood (and Sigur Rós) may try to make impressionable youth believe their family dog is just waiting for the right moment to begin speaking in full, human sentences, we all grow up eventually resigned to the fact that our beloved pets will never communicate with words. Now, bound and determined to cast doubt on one of the many internalized disappointments we all need to accept in order to be functioning adults, a speech pathologist named Christina Hunger has arrived to show off her own dog, which has figured out how to use a sound board to “say” 29 different words.
A profile of Hunger—and her 18 month-old Catahoula/Blue Heller mix Stella—by People’s Hilary Shenfeld describes the surrealism of living with a dog that’s figured out how to communicate her thoughts by using a special “adaptive device” covered with sound-playing buttons mapped to specific words. The article cites extremely weird examples of the way this works, like how Stella presses buttons to request belly rubs, food, or “that she would like to go outside, specifically to the park” or beach.
Hunger’s Instagram is full of videos showing exactly how bizarre this whole thing is in practice. Stella walks over to the board, which looks like a color-coded child’s play set, and presses her paws down on specific buttons so a robotic voice translates her thoughts into stuff like, “Goodbye,” “Outside”—a request, in this case, to hurry up and go for a trip to the pet store.
Hunger, who compares Stella’s communication abilities to that of a human 2-year-old’s, works with children of that age as a speech pathologist and began teaching her dog when she was roughly 8 weeks old. Since then, noting that Stella “says something cooler” than before “every day,” the dog has learned how to use “at least 29 words and can combine up to five words to make a phrase or sentence.”
While it’s a fascinating story, we must also remember that a fully competent talking dog isn’t necessarily as great as it seems. As nice as it would be be to hear a beloved canine companion provide career advice or discuss the movie you just watched together, the devastation of a cherished pet looking up into its owners’ eyes then purposefully stamping out “I have never actually loved you” with its cute little paws might be too much misery for the human soul to bear.
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