Alexis Devine is the Tacoma-based artist and designer perhaps best known for her role as Bunny the talking sheepadoodleโ€™s mom and teacher.

Alexis began teaching Bunny to communicate via AAC devices in Fall 2019 after seeing videos of speech pathologist Christina Hunger working with her dog Stella. By the time Alexis connected with CleverPet founder and cognitive scientist Leo Trottier in May 2020, Bunny had mastered 24 word buttons. She now has 78 buttons, 5.5 million TikTok followers, half a million Instagram followers and her very own website, in addition to a growing number of headlines. Over the past few months Alexis and Bunny have been featured on GMA, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, BBC, Inside Edition, Mashable, Buzzfeed, The Verge and dozens more.ย 


Time-Stamped Questions:

[00:35] Can you just tell us a little bit about who Bunny is and how you're teaching her to communicate?

[01:16] How many buttons does Bunny have on her board right now?

[01:24] You started very young with Bunny but is this something that older dogs can learn how to do too, or is it something you have to start with when they're very young?

[01:46] Can you take us through how you teach Bunny to use these buttons on some of the more tangible words like โ€œcatโ€ or โ€œoutsideโ€ versus some of the more abstract words like โ€œloveโ€ or โ€œmadโ€?

[02:58] Did you do the same kind of modeling method for both the very concrete words and the more abstract words?

[03:50] Words like โ€œwhyโ€ โ€œwhereโ€ โ€œwhatโ€ โ€œwhenโ€... How do you work through those?

[04:35] How many hours do you spend training Bunny on these words? When you first started versus once you already had an understanding of some words, what was that timeline like?

[05:50] How is this NOT a trick, and how do you then go about engaging Bunny to interact with the board to answer questions and that kind of stuff?

[07:26] What about when you're on the go? Does Bunny ever get frustrated when she doesn't have access to her buttons?

[07:56] A lot of people have picked up on the fact that you also have a cat, and Bunny seems to be kind of obsessed with this cat. Is there a reason your cat isn't learning to communicate using the buttons as well?

[09:12] You said you had 78 buttons. How do you organize them?ย 

[10:31] Why did you name her Bunny?

[10:50] Have you noticed that Bunny's personality has changed at all since she's learned this new way to communicate with you?

[11:18] Is there a conversation that you guys have had using the buttons that has surprised you the most?

[11:50] Speaking of โ€œouch,โ€ a lot of people want to know how you teach something like that while being ethical about it?

[12:52] How do you balance things like potty training with the consistency of using the buttons? Because obviously if you're potty training your dog, you might not want them to go out at any time that they want to go out, so how do you balance that?

[13:48] If youโ€™re traveling with Bunny, do you bring the buttons with you?

[14:39] Do you recommend using your dog's paw to teach her to use the button, like hand-over-hand?

[15:34] You mentioned that you recently added a word that Bunny didn't know before. Does that mean that the majority of the words that you add buttons to, that she already knows the concepts?

[16:22] How do you teach the concept of time? โ€œNowโ€... โ€œlaterโ€... how do you teach a dog โ€œlaterโ€?

[18:00] is Bunny learning new words faster, or about the same speed, or is there no way of knowing?ย 

[18:32] What buttons have you found to be essential for basic conversation? Like maybe the first 15 or so to introduce?

[20:02] How many new words do you add at a time? Would you add โ€œmorning,โ€ โ€œafternoon,โ€ โ€œnightโ€ around the same time so that you can help her understand the differences, or one at a time?

[20:47] Have you noticed whether or not Bunny presses specific buttons in a consistent order? For example โ€œplay nowโ€ versus โ€œnow playโ€?

[21:07] Does Bunnyโ€™s plan of learning stop after a while, or are you guys just exploring her full potential?

[21:41] Does that include all tenses of the words โ€” past, present, future โ€” do you think?

[22:15] Do you bring the button outside with you for โ€œpoopโ€ so that you can then model it while it's happening?

[22:34] Is your husband dedicated to this too? Any issues with inconsistency with training between the two of you?

[23:41] You mentioned that she's not very treat-motivated, or you try not to use treats to motivate her. What is she motivated by in terms of learning the buttons?

[24:39] How do you handle if she has a tantrum using her buttons? What do you do then?

[25:25] Some people use hand signals with training. Have you ever tried combining the words with hand signals, or do you do it separately? How does that work?ย 

[26:25] Will you try to teach her pronouns at any point?

[27:26] Has Bunny ever spoken to another animal also using buttons, and is that something that you might try at some point? If Bunny and Stella were in the same room, what do you think would happen?

[28:21] You mentioned this research that you're contributing to, and at the last TheyCanTalk Show, we interviewed Federico Rossano, who is conducting this big research project with a lot of different animals. What are you hoping to find out from the research?

[29:27] Do you work full-time while working with Bunny?

[29:49] Approximately how many times a day would you say, on average, Bunny hits a button?

[30:45] How proficient do you wait for her to be with the newest button before adding more?

[31:46] Have you seen any examples of Bunny coining her own phrase to mean something that she doesn't have a button for yet?

[32:24] Someone in the chat said that they saw the videos of her existential crisis. Does she recognize herself in the mirror now?

[33:06] Going back to the study that we were talking about, you have multiple cameras set up. How many do you have at this point, and is the camera always on, or is that something that you can control?ย 

[33:49] Someone in the chat says โ€œWe've started using the buttons last week. My Weimaraner is as intense in pressing the buttons as anything in her life. Do you have any tips to get her to be gentler?โ€

[35:06] What has it been like to go from nearly zero to six million followers in just a few months?

[35:53] Are you concerned about privacy with all the cameras around?

[36:27] From the chat: โ€œI teach my dog all the commands in English โ€” like โ€œsit,โ€ โ€œlay down,โ€ โ€œstand up,โ€ โ€œstayโ€ โ€” but normally I would just speak Vietnamese, [my] mother tongue. If I start to teach my dog to use these buttons, would you recommend me to use English and always speak english to my dog, or should I use my mother tongue?โ€

[37:40] Does Bunny ever try to use buttons to get a treat?

[38:29] What's your favorite, or the most interesting, thing that you've learned about Bunny that you maybe wouldn't have known if it weren't for the buttons?

[39:39] Have you sought out research on AAC for humans and children to incorporate into your practice with Bunny?

[40:44] Which words do you recommend to start with for beginners?

[41:37] When you're first starting out, is there a place where you can go that you would recommend to get these buttons, or the board, or any other information?ย 

[42:38] Does Bunny communicate with guests in your home or just with the family?

[43:16] Would you consider adding more vocalization buttons like you have for the question, the โ€œHmm?โ€ sound button?ย 

[43:56] If Bunny starts to play without using the button first, do you then go back and model the button before you initiate play, or do you ask Bunny to press play before you then play with her?

[45:27] How and when did you first introduce the โ€œHmm?โ€ button?

[46:24] What influences your word choice with each new button that you do add?

[47:15] Prior to Bunny, did you have dogs, and did you have any kind of dog-training experience?

[48:12] What do you suggest for people who go to work now or after the pandemic โ€” should the buttons be put away when they're not there to respond? (answer continued at [49:32])

[48:33] How do you think your approach differs from that of Christina Hunger?

[49:55] How does it make you feel when Bunny tells you that she loves you?

[50:18] When Bunny is upstairs and she wants to express something, will she indicate to you to come downstairs or does she vocalize/bark or something like that?

[50:44] How do you introduce the concepts of time? That sounds really hard to model?

[51:20] How do you differentiate โ€œI love youโ€ from โ€œscritchesโ€?

[52:20] From the chat: โ€œRight now I have one button per HexTile. Any tips on combining buttons onto one HexTile?ย 

[53:15] Have you thought about teaching her the days of the week?

[53:28] Do you recommend having a singular person's voice with the button, or does it matter if it's mom or dad's voice?

[53:58] How do you envision Bunny to be in five or ten years?

[54:46] Now that Bunny has so many buttons, do you just branch an additional tile of the same type next to each other, or do you arrange it once you've filled up all of the category tiles? So if you have let's say 10 action words, how do you branch off of that existing action tile? How do you go about arranging that?

[56:00] What's Bunny's most used word?

[56:58] You mentioned you're an artist. What kind of art do you do?ย 
Waaay to early in the morning for me but count me in for the replay!
Question:ย 
How does bunny act arround her buttons regarding strangers, friends, family and other dogs?ย 

My pup (Parsley) is proficient at a few key term buttons (potty, water, walk, etc) and am wondering how to introduce more abstract concepts like mad, concerned, happy, or ouch? Thanks!ย 
Iโ€™d like to add to this by asking how to model terms like โ€œwhyโ€, โ€œwhereโ€, and โ€œwhatโ€!
For anyone who'd like to help promote the event via your social media channels, here are a couple posters and some accompanying links:

YouTube livestream link: https://clvr.pt/ask_alexis
Signup form: https://clvr.pt/qa_signup





Do you use the buttons to talk with Bunny every day? How many hours do you spend teaching Bunny every week?ย 

I teach my dog all the commands in English (like sit, lay down, stand up, stay...) but normally I would just speak Vietnamese (my mother-tongue) to him. If I start to teach my dog to use the buttons, would you recommend me to use English, and always speak English to my dog, or should I use my mother-tongue?ย 
What is your favorite/most interesting thing youโ€™ve learned about Bunny that you wouldnโ€™t have known without the buttons?

What is the best way I could start to teach my dog this? Is there a place that sells these buttons that you could recommend? Me and my family love wating Bunny and can't wait to see what else she has to say!
Have you ever thought about getting Bunny & Stella together? (With their own, respective sets of buttons?) I really wonder if they may both realize they can communicate in Dog-lish? (A combination of normal dog-to-dog communication and body language, plus use of their English speech through their buttons). Have you ever tried the buttons in other settings? I know, that would be a hassle to set that many up in the configuration somewhere else though. Have you ever had dog play dates with other dogs with the buttons nearby? Does Bunny think other dogs know how to use them? If you were to visit another house, and took even just the OUTSIDE button with you, and placed it near the door in this other setting, I wonder if she would associate it in that more generalized meaning? Iโ€™m so fascinated with Bunnyโ€™s interactions and cleverness! ๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿถ
How does Bunny tell all of the buttons apart? Does she remember the location of the buttons? If they got mixed around, how would she react? Thank you :)ย 
What do you do when you take Bunny traveling (in the before times)? Do you have to bring her buttons with? Or can she go without?
Thanks!
Does Bunny (or has she) ever get frustrated when sheโ€™s trying to tell you something that she doesnโ€™t have words for? How specific or precise is her non button based communication?
We just started with the buttons a few weeks ago. Our dog Gunner quickly caught on to โ€œoutsideโ€ (which we use for going potty) next we added โ€œplayโ€ but we are having trouble with him mixing them up especially at night. Playing outside is absolutely favorite thing to do and asks for it a lot but as it gets colder and darker its hard to do. Should we should change โ€œoutsideโ€ to โ€œpottyโ€ or โ€œpeeโ€/โ€œpoopโ€ or will that be too confusing?ย 
When you were first teaching Bunny the buttons what was her reaction? How long did it take for her to figure out the communication system?ย 

What signs did you look for in the beginning that told you you were able to move on to the next word?ย 
Weโ€™ve been working on our buttons for about 9 months, and one of our dogs (Dillon) has about 20 words that he uses consistently while the other (Peaches) only uses about 6. Any tips on how to get Peaches using the buttons more? She tends to benefit from her brother using it, like if he says โ€œoutsideโ€ then they both get to go out, or if he asks for a treat I feel guilty only giving one to Dillon so she gets one too. So she doesnโ€™t have as much motivation. My ultimate goal would be to see them using the buttons to talk to each other one day! ย 
How hard was it to make the switch to the hextiles after using the original buttons? We have a board of 40 buttons now (4 rows of 7), but we need to expand. Iโ€™m worried about having to start all over with teaching if we make the switch, and with 40 buttons thatโ€™s a lot of progress to lose.ย 
Do you find the sound quality of the smaller hextiles buttons to be better than the Learning Resources buttons? We have a hard time getting words with an โ€œSโ€ to sound right with the original buttons, and we have to over-annunciate sounds to get them to sound somewhat clear. It would be a big benefit if switching to the hextiles system if the sound quality is better.ย 
What do you do when you are traveling? One reason I came across hextiles is because I was looking for ways to modify our current board of 40 buttons so that it is easier to travel with it. I was looking at making a lid so the buttons didnโ€™t get pressed and for easier packing/stacking. I see how popping the hextile boards apart would be easy, but how do you travel with the buttons?
Hello! Iโ€™m curious about Bunnyโ€™s relationship with Uni, and the catโ€™s relationship with the tiles. Iโ€™ve seen cats use them as well - has she shown any interest or received any training? ย Iโ€™d also love to hear in Bunnyโ€™s words her thoughts on the cat!
How much time per day did you spend reinforcing the buttons/teaching Bunny the buttons? I believe I read somewhere you're home with her mostly, but how much time was directly dedicated to button training per day or week?
Is there a video to watch from this?ย  I'm so bummed I missed it!

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