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Video Is a Game-Changer

So for the past almost-two weeks, I’ve been focused on adding buttons for words that Tashi definitely or almost definitely already knows, and that we use a lot. Having a camera always on the board — being able to go back and review video to see exactly what words he pressed (including ones missed by the Connect speaker or app), and get a sense of whether they were intentional or accidental — has been a game-changer. There’s even more going on here than I knew.


Later on Monday (the day of my last post) I added a button with the name of Tashi’s best dog friend, a sort of Husky-Boxer-Shepherd (??) mix who belongs to my friend Barbara. They live a few blocks away, and Tashi and Chewie have a regular playdate on Tuesday, which is possibly the highlight of Tashi’s week.

Tashi and Chewie taking a brief, rare breather. Usually they spend the whole hour wrestling and biting nonstop. (Photo courtesy of Chewie’s person, Barbara.)

Below is an unedited clip of Tashi’s reaction when I gave him a button for CHEWIE. When the clip starts, I had already recorded the word “Chewie” into the app; you hear my final test that it all uploaded correctly, and then I go to add the new button to the board.

I told Tashi to “sit” because I didn’t want him tromping around firing off accidental words and getting in my way while I was trying to add the button; as you see he totally ignored that, but I was so charmed and pleased by what he said instead that I didn’t care.

Note how his body language completely confirms that he is HAPPY. He’s usually interested when I put down a new button but I never get that kind of face-licking for it!

Here’s a clip from the first time he used the CHEWIE button — I captioned this one to explain the context and my thinking. (Also been teaching myself new video editing software.)



Tuesday (November 28) I gave him the word CHAIR, which in our household refers specifically to the big leather recliners that Jak and I have in the living room (visible on the edges of the video above). They are the only people-furniture that Tashi is allowed on, and probably his favorite place in the house.


Couple of days later, I added WATER. It’s a word I felt certain Tashi knew from verbal modelling, but had been low priority; it’s not something he typically needs to request because he has two water dishes and we’re pretty good about keeping them filled.

However, ‘water’ is a useful concept for more than just drinking; it’s good for rain (WATER OUTSIDE) as well. And we had a very odd spate of rainy weather for about nine days there. Normally the dry season starts around mid-October, and rainy days between then and June are few and far between. But whatever climate change delayed our monsoon this year (and made the whole rainy season dryer and hotter than ever before) seems to have also given us a rainy late November / early December. It’s a different kind of rain from the monsoon, too — overcast and sprinkling-to-pouring all day, instead of sunny day and rainy late afternoon or overnight. It felt like a Seattle winter — except with more daylight hours, because latitude. Very strange, though heaven knows we need the water.

Anyway, I got to model WATER OUTSIDE a lot, and also verbally added  “wet”, as wet/dry is one of the adjective pairs I plan to use eventually.


On Saturday (2 December) I added both CUDDLE and LOVE. Tashi definitely knew “cuddle” already and I figured there was a decent chance he knew “love” … though of course feelings are always harder to be sure about.

I was surprised and delighted, though, when he used LOVE the very same day. Here’s what happened:

When Tashi is playing tug, he sometimes rearranges his grip on the toy, and often he is not too careful about where his teeth land, which is how last Saturday I ended up with a badly chomped hand. It was an accident, but it hurt, and I need him to learn to be more careful. So I stopped playing with him, told him “Tashi hurt Karawynn” and modeled same on buttons, TASHI HURT KARAWYNN, and went off into the kitchen to wash some dishes with my headphones on.

A few minutes later, I glanced at my phone and saw in the app that Tashi had in the interim pressed LOVE LOVE KARAWYNN TASHI PLAY. It was like he was apologizing, and asking politely to play more! I was utterly charmed.

… until I went back and looked at the camera footage, which showed that the first four words of that sequence were just Tashi trying to get his ball out of the corner by the subwoofer. <sad trombone>

So yeah, the cameras are showing both the cool stuff that I’d otherwise miss, and the stuff I would otherwise think was cool that’s really just accidental.

In fact, so far (five days) the only deliberate use of LOVE was in a long string one night right after Jak and I started watching television, so it’s unclear whether it was meaningful or just general attention-seeking. He’s using feelings words a lot less now in general than he was a couple months ago, when it seemed like every second word was feelings. Maybe that’s just puppy stages, or maybe it’s because since I flipped the layout he has to walk a few more steps to get to them.

CUDDLE, on the other hand, has gotten quite a lot of use. I have to say it’s nice to have a dog who actually wants to cuddle (Tessa was not a cuddler; she wanted to be right next to me but not touching), especially now that his puppy energy is waning and it’s not (always) a bitey wrigglefest.


On Sunday the third I added BONE, because Tashi has decent “bones” now; I had Jak bring back a supply of flavored Nylabones and Benebones from the US. He didn’t care much for the puppy Nylabones that he had before, but these new ones have been popular.


Tuesday the fifth I added BED. I know he understands the word “chair”, but he’d been using CHAIR a lot in ways that don’t make sense to me, especially in combination with OUTSIDE. I was about 95% sure he already understood “bed”, and I wanted to see what he would do with a third place button.

The first time he used it was the next afternoon, after a sudden downpour sent Jak running out to get the laundry off the line. When he came back, he spread out the slightly-rained-on clothes all over our king-sized bed (and gave Tashi back his gator toy, which I had shown him that morning was having a “bath” in the “bath device” aka washing machine). Tashi came out a couple minutes later and pressed BED, then looked at me (in the kitchen); when I was slow to respond he came over. I went into the bedroom with him then to reinforce the meanings of “Tashi bed” and “Karawynn Jak bed”. I think he just wanted me to see that something odd had happened to our bed; when I was not alarmed he was fine.

On Thursday, he pressed BED OUTSIDE, which makes no more sense to me than CHAIR OUTSIDE. Later he also said BED HELP, and then declined to elaborate when I questioned him, so … who knows? Then Friday morning  his first press of the day was CUDDLE CHAIR BED … which made sense, whew! (He’s not allowed on our bed, but I do sometimes sit on the floor by his bed to cuddle him.) So I took a few minutes to sit in the CHAIR and CUDDLE.


Thursday morning, it was raining (again), so Tashi did not get his usual morning outside time (again). I took him out to pee. (I had introduced the word “potty” before I learned from other button teachers that it’s useful to separate pee and poop, so “potty” became our word for pee, and I’ve since been verbally using “poop” separately, for both the act and the result.) Then he had breakfast — breakfast includes a chicken back, so it’s outside, but it was pouring so hard he ate it on the patio instead of taking it out into the grass. He came right back in after, so I knew he hadn’t had a chance for his morning poop, so when he pressed POTTY OUTSIDE, I decided this was the perfect time for a POOP button.

Set it up and showed it to him, he pressed it, and I offered “poop outside” with the leash, which he accepted right away. It was so, so wet out there, standing water over almost half the yard near our house. He usually prefers to poop in the farthest parts of our shared yard, but this morning I walked him just a little ways off to a non-laked spot under some sheltering heliconia leaves and said “Tashi poop”. He sniffed a bit, lapped at some of the standing water, but when I specified “Tashi poop here now”, he got the job done pretty quickly. Yay!

He’s used POOP a couple of other times since … once when he actually needed to pee, but declined to poop afterward when I gave him the chance. Other times in combination where the intended meaning was unclear. I’m prepped for him using it as a curse word since that is apparently the done thing, but so far I can’t tell if for sure if he has.


And finally, yesterday morning (Friday) he had a bitey frustration fit with both Jak and myself, one that the threat of “bite is alone” did not temper. This is the sort of thing that used to happen a dozen or more times a day, and now happens maybe once a week, if that. He’s made so much progress. But he did get a time out in the front room, and while he was in there I made a BITE button.

I long ago decided not to use the word “chew” with regard to bones and such, because it would be too confusing, given that his best friend is “Chewie”, so BITE is doing double duty there. Aside from the obvious “no bite” we have been encouraging him to “bite [toyname]” or “bite bone” as a redirection to his puppy mouthiness since basically the beginning, so that’s not a new usage.

So here we are, 54 buttons and counting. Only a handful more words that Tashi already knows, at which point things will probably slow down, because there will be more new concepts and I’ll only do one of those (or a single pair of opposites) at a time.

I haven’t talked about Rikki yet, but I’ll save that for next time because this is already long.

Here’s the plan as it stands today:

Published inMexicoPets

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