‘Talking’ Dog Takes Over TikTok

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‘Talking’ Dog Takes Over TikTok
Bunny the Sheepadoodle uses assistive technology to communicate, wowing over four million followers and inspiring others to test their dogs’ ability to acquire language

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Talking dogs aren’t just a thing in books or TV anymore. Thanks to the brilliance of talking-button-assisted communication and TikTok, plenty of super smart pooches are showing off their newfound abilities—including internet star Bunny.

The adorable Sheepadoodle shot to stardom after her owner Alexis Devine started a quarantine social media account in June 2020. Alexis, who works as an artist and jewelry designer in Tacoma, Washington, got the idea to train two-year-old Bunny after being inspired by some other famous pups—including the one-and-only Stella the dog. Stella’s owner, speech pathologist Christina Hunger, can be credited for popularizing the use of assistive technology for language acquisition (circular buttons that can be pushed to say words) in the pet world. Her New York Times best-selling book How Stella Learned To Talk documents the process.

“We were inspired by the many animal language studies that came before us. Koko, Kanzi, Washoe, Alex the Grey Parrot, Chaser and Rico the Border Collies. And most recently Christina Hunger, her dog Stella, and Alexandre Rossi and his dog Sophia who both learned to communicate using buttons,” Alexis tells Modern Dog.

“We started with a single button by the door which said ‘outside,’ and no expectation of success,” she explains. Bunny caught onto the unique communication style fairly quickly, and to much fanfare: in under a year, her TikTok account grew to have over four million followers. With nearly another million on Instagram, it’s safe to say Bunny is officially a celebrity pooch.

“We started with a single button by the door which said ‘outside,’ and no expectation of success.”

For Alexis, though, training Bunny was less about her speedy learning abilities and more about what she had to say. “To me, the most remarkable thing is not how many buttons she has or how quickly she learns them, but what she chooses to communicate about. I would expect a dog to mostly chat about walkies and toys, but Bunny seems to explore much deeper concepts,” she adds.

In TikTok videos, Bunny is downright impressive: in one particular video, she uses a combination of buttons to say ‘stranger paw’—meaning she felt something caught between her toes (it was a thorn).

And she doesn’t always just talk about herself: Bunny has also proven to have a propensity for, erm, some invasive inquiries of Alexis and her husband Johnny.

“There was a period of time, it lasted months, where Bunny's primary focus was calling out my husband when he went poop—sorry, Johnny!” Alexis hilariously reveals. “She started referring to farts as ‘poop play,’ and even asked where I poop. Hours of embarrassing entertainment.”

If it’s not already obvious, the Sheepadoodle has gone far beyond basic communication—even coining some of her own phrases. “I'm regularly surprised…for example, [she came up with] ‘night talk sleep’ to mean ‘dream’,” Alexis says. Other interesting combos include ‘settle sound’ to request her humans to ‘be quiet’ or the words ‘water hippo’ for ‘seal’ (one of Bunny’s favourite toys).

Notably, Alexis doesn’t come from a professional background when it comes to training dogs. “I'm objectively underqualified to be teaching my dog how to ‘talk,’” she admits. “I’m not a scientist, dog trainer or speech language pathologist, but I am endlessly curious and an artist, and I believe those qualities have allowed me to think outside of the box in many ways in regards to my work with Bunny.”

“I would expect a dog to mostly chat about walkies and toys, but Bunny seems to explore much deeper concepts.”

Bunny has proven to be “clever” and an “independent thinker” since Alexis brought her home. The dog lover first adopted her furry BFF when Bunny was just eight weeks old.

“I met her for the first time when she was a month old, in a whelping pen with her mother and all of her siblings,” Alexis remembers.

“She was the smallest in the litter by far and so sassy. Her mother laid down in my lap and Bunny crawled into the crook of my arm and stayed there for two hours.” The rest is history, and the sweet dog and Alexis have been inseparable since—likely because they have many things in common.

“Bunny is a very sensitive and thoughtful dog. She has big feelings which she expresses both with and without buttons. Like me, she is introverted, but forms strong attachments,” the dog owner says of her four-legged companion. “She is sweet and spicy.”

Social media stardom, however, was never in the plan for Bunny and Alexis. “It's been a rollercoaster and was completely unforeseen,” Alexis says. “We get a lot of really lovely feedback and some not so lovely feedback as well. We are rolling with it and our goal throughout has remained the same—to explore the depth of connection and communication with a non-human animal.”

Bunny’s fans have been loving the inside look at her life over the past year, which recently included one major life change: a new sibling named Otter. The standard Poodle puppy has fit right into the family, though change of routine is par for the course with any new addition.

“Our routine right now consists of a lot of play between the two of them, but I'm sure to give ample individual time to both; as well, Bunny and I try to experience something or somewhere novel at least three times a week,” Alexis says. “Recently we've been walking around the outside of our local zoo to experience new sounds and smells. The howler monkeys were having a party the other day, and it was one of the few times I'd wished for travel buttons. Her face spoke volumes.”

@whataboutbunny

Always when I’m trying to work ##talkies ##talkingdog ##mydogtalks ##foryou ##conversation

♬ original sound - I am Bunny

Otter has been part of the family since August 2021, but Alexis hasn’t trained him on button communication just yet. The puppy has, however, already shown some interest. “He has pressed a few, of his own accord, in contextually appropriate ways. It'll be very interesting to see how much he is able to pick up just by watching Bunny,” she says.

Bunny’s celebrity career has continued to skyrocket in the past year, also leading to a popular YouTube channel and merch line, available at whataboutbunny.com. Fans can shop branded hoodies, t-shirts, and other accessories featuring the adorable pooch—but it doesn’t stop there. Bunny has also formed a partnership with innovative technology company FluentPet, which allows pet owners to customize record-and-play buttons for their own canines with the goal of enriching pet and human relationships. Bunny’s specific board has over 40 words but continues to grow.

A book deal is also on the horizon for Alexis and Bunny. “I’m writing a book right now. Bunny may as well have written it herself, but I got the thumbs,” Alexis says. “It documents our trials and tribulations, successes, and relationship. She's currently redlining it and I owe her some edits ASAP. Bossy boss!”

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