Apart from barking, whining, and the occasional howl, even the smartest dogs can only communicate so much. But thanks to recent breakthroughs in alternative and augmentative communication (A.A.C.) devices, pet owners across TikTok have successfully taught their dogs and cats to ask for kibble and say I love you.
To be clear, these gadgets aren’t turning pet owners into Dr. Doolittle. Rather, cats and dogs are communicating via animal soundboards comprised of circular buttons that dictate simple, pre-recorded words when pressed.
Bunny, a 2-year-old Sheepadoodle who knows upwards of 92 words, is the poster child of one of the most popular A.A.C. devices, FluentPet. In one popular video, Bunny strings together the words “ouch,” “stranger,” and “paw,” to communicate that she has a foxtail stuck between her toes.
“I felt between her paws and found a thorn in there,” Bunny's owner and FluentPet co-founder Alexis Devine told the New York Times.
“Anytime she chooses to communicate with me in a way that is not her natural communicative method, it feels really special. If she’s going out of her way because she trusts me and wants to engage, then I just know that she loves me.”
@whataboutbunny Check your doggy’s paws if you live in an area with foxtail #ouchie #talkingdog #cutedog #communication #doggyanthem ♬ original sound - I am Bunny
While Bunny is a TikTok sensation on her own — she has 8.2 million followers and was featured in Forbes — other pets have followed suit as products like FluentPet gain popularity.
Jasper, a blind cat featured on the account @pawsitivebehaviors, can ask for “kibble" and “pets” around 18 months after being introduced to FluentPet's system.
FluentPet tells TechCrunch that dogs learn nine words on average, with most getting two buttons within a month.
The company has also added a product to its lineup: FluentPet Connect. First unveiled at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where it was an Innovation Awards Nominee, FluentPet Connect has app connectivity that sends push notifications to a proprietary app, so your animal can communicate with you across the house … or the globe. The new app-enabled system starts at $165, which buys six buttons, three HexTiles, a battery-powered base, and a speaker.
Hunger for Words, a FluentPet competitor, offers a more budget-friendly (and basic) starter set for just $25.
FluentPet was the recipient of the Grand Prize at the 2022 Purina Pet Care Innovation Prize Program.
The co-lead of Purina's 9 Square Ventures division had this to say about FluentPet: "We are very impressed by FluentPet and the entire 2022 class for the passion and innovation they are bringing to the pet care industry." "Programs like the Pet Care Innovation Prize, allow us to spend time with and support the growth of talented startups while working together to shape the future of pet care."