It all started with my housemate bringing home those FluentPet dog buttons. At first it was cute- my Oreo lab mix repeatedly asking to go “outside” and to “play”. Then having “no play” arguments and button-stomping tantrums became common. Then incessant whining and other restless, attention-seeking behaviors emerged as constants that dictated our lives. Routine was ruined. Starting with the classic four buttons- “play”, “outside”, “later”, and “all done”- we have since grown to ten buttons… and it’s been exhausting. Reading her body language was much easier than asking whether she wants to play “ball” or “tug” or just “play” with anything.
After a while, I realized how much I didn’t want to step outside of my bedroom because I would have to deal with my dog demanding things of me whenever I popped into sight. She had become the tyrant of our living room culture such that I avoided her at the expense of my housemate wanting to teach her to use the buttons to request things. Responding with “no” didn’t work because we were still giving her attention for pressing those buttons when we didn’t have time to entertain her requests. Building agency and language “skills” is one thing, enabling demanding and disruptive behavior isn’t.
I realized that this was modeled after the dog button craze on Instagram. Often times, when we model our behavior according to what we observe from others- whether in competition or belonging, we want self-affirming cues. I want my dog to be as smart as other dogs, if not smarter. Yet, developing these new habits are intentional, personal time investments that 1) requires a degree of belief in the model system, 2) agreement by all parties directly involved, and 3) consistent but practical practice.
Given that my dog has been at this for months now, I see that she only associates certain words and buttons to match an action or reaction that she wants, not necessarily understanding what the words actually mean. I’m less apprehensive about it being too much of a hassle to teach her but the smart girl definitely knows how to abuse the system.
At the end of the day, we need to adapt new ideas to best fit ourselves, no matter how others portray how it should be done. Given how disruptive my dog has become, I can only honor the button requests when I have time to entertain her and invite her to use the button system to tell me what she wants. Otherwise, they are void and I don’t care what the little shit has to say.