I’m not a fan of using the term behavioral challenges, but it was the best way to sum it up in the title. Are there any other learners out there that display challenging behaviors (un-related to the buttons)? I'd love to hear about how the buttons have impacted your learner's life!

Our pup Scout has a lot of trauma due to her life experiences prior to us adopting her. She also happens to be a high energy dog with super chewing abilities. This all combines together and comes out in the form of her eating inedible objects, destroying things (ex: her bed), mouthing, jumping, and making a lot of vocalizations (whining) throughout the day. We work with her constantly and have seen HUGE progress since we adopted her in May, and we attribute a good amount of that to her having the buttons to be her voice. She still has a long way to go, but I'm interested to see if she changes as we add more words.

We have recently started Scout on Prozac to see if that helps to decrease some of her compulsion to eat non-edible things as well as her intense excitement levels.Β  We already do all of the non-medication things we can to address her issues (Lots of exercise, lots of training, routines, working with a dog behaviorist, lots of brain stimulation, etc). At this point the compulsive eating of non-edible objects has become a matter of safety so we figured medication was worth a try. I’m wondering if it will decrease her chattiness or desire to learn once it kicks in. Any other learners take medications for their behaviors? Do you mind talking about what they take and how it helps?

I think using the buttons is in a way a form of a trauma-informed approach to treating learners with behavioral issues. The buttons give them a voice which aids in self-empowerment and self-advocacy. The behaviors are often just their way of trying to talk or communicate with us and share how big their feelings are.Β 
Bertie has pretty severe anxiety. We've finally figured out the right medication level and are working on teaching him some emotional self regulation.Β 

He barks at my roommate a lot out of.. We think excitement? We've lived together for 5 years and he loves her but he does bark hysterically every time she comes out of her room or the bathroom. Or if she's on the couch and then stands up. Other anxiety stuff, he gets very upset when I leave even when he isn't alone. He's afraid of most strangers and other dogs and assorted random objects.Β 

Most of this has improved immeasurably since we got the med balance correct but I'm hoping the buttons will give him a way to express himself more calmly and maybe a way for us to reassure him that it's fine if the neighbors are talking in the stairwell.Β 

We've only got the three buttons so far but I anticipate his "concern" button getting a lot of use when we introduce it.Β 
I’m interested to hear more about Bertie as he continues his journey!

Do you mind sharing what medication he is on and how it has helped? Did you see any side effects? We just started Scout on Prozac this past week (I updated my post to reflect More information about this). I was so nervous starting her at only 11 months, but her compulsive eating has become a matter of safety so we felt it was worth a try.Β 
Scout & Sheila Β 

Oh sure! He’s on trazedone. We tried a couple others before we got there. Prozac calmed him down except for occasional explosive violence, so that wasn’t Great. I can’t remember the other med we tried cause I don’t think it had much effect. I think the vet hesitated to do trazedone only because he’s so small she knew we’d have to have it specially compounded which makes it more expensive.

He’s been on trazedone for several years now. It’s still only within the last year that I feel his dose is correct. We moved and I asked the vet if I could up his dosage during the moving process and that went so well that we decided to leave him at that higher dosage. I don’t see any side effects like we had with Prozac.Β 

We also occasionally supplement with Third of July which is a calming supplement with basically the same ingredients as a sleepy time tea, and with cannabis treats (it’s legal here. the vet said, β€œlegally I’m not allowed to recommend these to you But if you ask at the pet store they *can* legally recommend them to you). With that combination we’ve been able to pull of some previously unthinkable activities like taking him to a crowded park for movie night.

Tl:dr Have a vet you trust and don’t be afraid to experiment even after you’ve found something that works, because maybe it could work better.
Anna & Bertie Thanks for the info! I’m not sure how the Prozac will work our yet, it’s too soon to tell, but it’s good to know there are other medication options. As far as the calming treats, do they tend to make your pup hungrier?
Β 
One of Scout’s biggest challenges is she is constantly thinking about eating things and trying to eat non-edible things so I worry those types of treats might make that behavior worse.
Scout & Sheila Β Not that I’ve noticed but we really only use them in special circumstances. I would just test it at a time when you can keep an eye on her for a couple hours. Bertie is so small that I tend to err on the side of small doses of anything and work my way up.
Scout & Sheila Oh hey, a thought. It sounds like Scout has a nervous compulsion rather than that she’s hungry all the time so this may or may not be useful, but it might help to just...fill her up.Β 

I had (until she passed away last year) a very elderly dog with a major food compulsion because she had liver failure (Basically, she didn’t have a liver anymore. weirdly, not as serious as it sounds cause she lived for about 3 more years). She had to eat a very controlled diet that she hated and one of her symptoms was that she was eternally hungry. She became a trash monster just desperate to get into things and eat garbage and one of the things our vet suggested was to feed her more smaller meals and pad out her diet with pasta and vegetables.

For a dog it’s basically pointless carbs and cellulose that they can’t digest, but they like it cause it’s people food and it fills them up. The obvious downside is the more you feed a dog the more it poops, but that might be easier to deal with than property damage and worrying for her safety.Β 
Anna & Bertie That’s an interesting approach! It’s most likely some sort of self-soothing compulsion. We’re leaning towards it being more out of boredom than anxiety but it’s hard to tell for sure. We’re in the process of transitioning over to a vet with a background/interest in behaviors, so I will definitely ask them about her options with diet.

On top of all her other challenges Scout has an incredibly sensitive stomach. We’ve tried out three brands of food so far, but still haven’t found one that works. She now only gets Cheerios for training treats, and we have to freeze oatmeal instead of peanut butter inside her toys. We also give her plain oatmeal or rice with most meals. She occasionally gets lettuce, carrots or a scrambled egg as well. In the past we were giving her at least one big chew treat a day to help occupy her and stimulate her, but we had to stop because they all give her diarrhea.

I often wonder if any of her behaviors will improve once we get her diet/stomach issues figured out. Maybe she’s smarter than we give her credit for and she just eats everything to try to help with the diarrhea πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ.


Kyo has separation anxiety. I think it’s due to us raising his as a kitten during covid and now I’m back to work full time my boyfriend sends me recordings of him sadly meowing around the house at noon when he looks for me but can’t find me and probably just has anxiety in general.Β 

He seemed anxious when we first started but now he seemed to like them and he likes when new buttons are added. I added a new one last night and wasn’t actually going to use it until this afternoon but he was sniffing it and set it off in the morning before I could demonstrate. We’re on 5 buttons now he started to show interest around 3 and just recently started to show much more interest as he’s figured out they are really for his benefit and that it actually gets him what he wants vs attacking my legs which could mean anything from feed me to play with me.Β 

I do agree with you I think it’s beneficial to animals with behavioral challenges. I personally feel it can make it harder because they are more weary in the beginning but if you’re willing to hold out It does make them feel like they have choices. Just my experience from watching Kyo these past few weeks.
Scout can definitely relate to Kyo. She was adopted while we were home from Covid and my husband and I both work in education, so Scout spent 4 months with us together all day. We had to practice leaving and being gone leading up to work, but she definitely struggled with the transition of being back. We had to go back to crating her because she ate some molding while gated in the kitchen.Β 

Scout’s most challenging issue has compulsions to eat so non-edible things, especially when frustrated or bored, so I agree, it made it much harder in the beginning than if she didn’t have any behavioral challenges. Β 

We couldn’t leave her alone with the boards until we had trained her not to chew/eat them. She caught on within a week or so for her first board, and within a couple hours for the hexes. It definitely adds an extra challenge though because I couldn’t leave her with them unsupervised in the beginning. Β 

Her board was wood and so much cheaper than the hexes so I was a lot let nervous about the first one. She does LOVE her buttons though so I hope she doesn’t ruin/eat the hexes.

Overall the buttons have definitely helped with her eating compulsions though because she has a way to indicate boredom and a few major needs to us. We hope that as we add more words it will get even better.
Hi Scout & Sheila!Β 

we also deal with some behavioral challenges due to past trauma. It's mostly a combination of anxiety, aggression and a huuuge herding/protecting drive. Yuna is very protective of resources and apparently also sees me as one which used to lead to ... interesting ... encounters with strangers, dogs, animals etcpp. We did a lot of training and behavioral therapy so now we can manage but it will always be something that we have to keep in mind. Also she is very loud and barks at almost every sound. Or when it's dinner time she would bark and paw at us but since we have a treat button (which just means food in general) she uses that instead which is SO much better xD especially because I also introduced All done. So when I model "Treat" "All Done" she gets it. However, so far she hasn't used any other buttons that much AND (oh boi) she isn't really motivated by play. She just isn't interested in toys. Believe me, I made a fool of myself trying to get her to play with me and a toy. Nope. No food = not interested *insert laughing face palm emoji*Β 

Thinking about introducing a "Concerned" button next, maybe she will use that instead of barking all the time xDΒ 
Alina & Yuna - it’s starting to look like Scout has a huge herding drive too. It doesn’t impact us much at home, but at doggy daycare they say she nips the heels of the other dogs while trying to herd them so they have to kennel her and let her out in a small group. We don’t bring often, but I wish she did better with it. What did you do to work through those issues?

In regards to the barking while eating... Scout used to be soooo bad about that but now she’s fine. We used the Petsafe Treat & Train to teach her not to do that anymore. We had huge success. You can find videos of her using the Treat & Train on her Instagram @Scouts.Journey.Home
Scout & Sheila - we haven't really worked through those issues. We had three trainers already and they told us it can only be managed not really resolved. So that means she's always on a leash outside and in our garden I have a special recall in case she starts chasing the neighbors at the fence xD we wanted to train more with her at home at the beginning of this year and well then Corona happened. Our training mainly consists of tolerating strangers at home and that just is too risky at the moment *ugh*Β 
Willis definitely has separation anxiety. We haven’t been apart more than a couple of hours since he was 9 weeks old. He never chews anything or does anything destructive while I’m gone, but he paces most of the time. I almost never get to shower alone. I wish he could be content when he is alone.
Aww poor Willis. I also never get to shower or pee alone anymore lol. It drives me crazy but it’s not at the top of the list for what we’re working on right now. I pick my battles wisely!
I have no experience with using the buttons with dogs with behavior issues, but since I am a dog behaviorist, i find it realy interesting. I am sure that all kinds of cognitive training is good for dogs with fear issues. I am looking forward to keep following Scout :-)
That’s so awesome Nina! We do a lot of training with Scout, but I think the buttons really help to give Scout an appropriate way to express her wants and needs. Her behaviors are how she communicates and self-regulates. The buttons give her a more effective option. Hopefully she gets better as she gets more buttons!
Hello! My pup Ruby takes a generic form of Prozac (Fluoxetine) for her anxiety, and it’s helped a lot! She’s on a very low dose, but we saw enough of a difference to keep it going. I’m also hoping that the buttons will give her an alternative outlet for expressing, releasing, or alleviating her anxiety (as opposed to outbursts of aggressive behavior, which is her current go-to). We’re not very far into our AAC journey, so I can’t speak to how it’s affecting her yet, but it’s definitely something I’m watching! Would love to be updated on Scout’s progress as you go!Β 
Ruby is such a cutie! If you don’t mind me asking, what behaviors do you feel the Prozac helped with the most?Β 

I hope the buttons help Ruby!Β Does she have an Instagram where we can follow her progress?
Scout & Sheila Hi Sheila! Before taking Fluoxetine, Ruby’s anxiety was very high, all the time, for no discernible
reason. Now she is a bit more relaxed. If I had to create a ratings scale, I would say her general temperament went from a 10 to a 6/7. She’s still very alert, but not to the point that she’s triggered constantly, which has allowed us to supplement behavioral conditioning for the remainder of her anxiety related issues. She’s not perfect by any means, but it’s definitely more manageable!

She doesn’t have her own Instagram, but you can find me @roymeister. I post about her quite a bit. :) Does Scout have social media?
Megan and Ruby That makes total sense. It sounds like you were in a similar boat with your expectations. My goal with the medication is that it reduces her intensity enough so that she can take in the training we are doing with her.

I added you on Instagram. We’re @Scouts.Journey.Home πŸ˜€.

My Poodle is finicky about her paws and is currently refusing to touch the buttons. Β  I’m not sure she will ever press them. Β 
How about her nose? Yuna wouldn't touch the buttons with her paws at first, too but we have trained already touching my hand with her nose and that helped with the buttons. We used shaping for that.
Alina & Yuna Β She touches my hand, but I don’t know that she would touch with enough force to activate the button, nor lower her head to it. Β 
My dog cali is reactive to people and dogs at a distance. She is very possessive with the other dog in the house. We have been trying meds with little help, but we will continue to work on our behavior with a behaviorist. We just started so hoping this helps us better communicate our concerns.
Our pal Opie has a serious anxiety disorder, which most severely presents as resource guarding and boundary guarding. He has an impressive ability to, in any setting, immediately identify and plant himself on the threshold between us and the rest of the world. He is fearful about not just his resources, but he also recognizes what we value and is fearful on our behalf about our resources. We used to sit with him an hour for each mealtime to comfort and hand feed him individual kibbles, and a good meal was him eating half a meal.

Opie is now on Prozac and Gabapentin and it’s made a world of difference. Encouragement is still needed at meal time but he eats his whole meal and no hand feeding required. We almost neverΒ  get far enough past threshold into aggression anymore, and there’s a slower progression so we have more time to see his cues and intervene. Added bonus is that toys last MUCH longer, from minutes to weeks.

The hardest part for us is that we now see all of the fear. He used to go straight to aggression, now we see the cowering, crying, trembling. It breaks our heart and we always talk about how much we wish we could talk to him and convince him he’s safe. We are really hopeful that the buttons might give us a way to understand him, tell him he’s okay, and give him whatever he needs (thunder shirt, cuddles, meds aka β€œcandies”) to make it through his hardest moments.Β 


As much as it breaks your heart, those fear symptoms are actually significantly healthier than aggression. Your pup is learning to β€œdial it back”
Emily, it sounds like Opie is so lucky to have you as his human! I love that the buttons offer the pups a chance to have a more socially acceptable way to communicate their big feels, wants, and needs. Please keep us updated on how Opie does with the buttons!
I strongly urge β€œfeelings” buttons! We have happy, sad, scared and loveyou.
Those with anxiety dogs, I encourage you to check out L-theanine. It’s being formulated into many of the expensive calming chews/powders, but you can get 100mg capsules for about 20 cents each ($35 for 180 caps). Humans in our house use it, and I can see a significant change within and hour of taking it.
Β I recently used it with a severe general anxiety disorder/canine compulsive order (light chasing) client, and it was like magic!!! It’s an extract found in green tea that works on neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and 5HTP. It’s different than SSRIs in that is actually increases serotonin instead of simply keeping the current serotonin available in the system longer (R=reuptake I=inhibitor).
Of course since it’s a supplement and no money to be made by bigpharma, so the research is limited, but there is some science backing it as effective for anxiety and depression.
We can't wait to do feelings buttons with Scout! We're focusing on some of the easier words to learn first, but have been using basic feeling words in the language when we talk to her since we adopted her. I'm hoping this will help her to learn the buttons faster!
When teaching the buttons to a dog who has noise anxiety, would you simply teach him β€œscared?” Β Or would you give him buttons to identify the noise that scared him, like β€œThunder,” β€œbeeps,” β€œwhistles?”
Bunny has a button for "sound". Maybe "sound" and "scared" would work well for a dog who is scared of noises.
Congo is a very reactive Boston Terrier. He can be aggressive, and cannot be introduced to new animals. He is a worried little boy. He struggles with self control, and would bark and bark and bark at any sound, jump up on me when I entered a room. He was overall just this wild ball of playing and anxiety.Β 

He had behaviorists, obedience, I even built an agility course and dog playground in my backyard. We did confidence building games, and eventually got him a friend so he could finally play with someone his own age.Β 

What helped his behavior the most was having the buttons to communicate. He could tell me when he was feeling mad, or when he needed me to be gentle and calm.Β 

He learned the buttons the fastest of any of my dogs, and he learns new words the fastest too. I have always talked to him A LOT, but he is still far more advanced than my other, more behaviorally normal dogs. I found that to be very interesting.Β 

He also β€œtalks” very wildly sometimes. He smashes his buttons, sometimes over and over and over. Sometimes he hops on them and runs around in the board, accidentally pushing many more. He has literally broken one. He has also torn them from the board before, despite having two strips of heavy duty Velcro.Β 
That's so interesting! What word do you use when Congo is requesting for you to be calm, and how did you model/teach that?
I've heard it said that the more reactive a dog is the smarter it is. In terms of being able to think into the future and predict outcomes of a variety of situations whether they've been exposed to it before or not. If that's true, it may contribute to why he's able to learn them quicker?
Scout & Sheila Β 
Congo has always been the most energetic dog I’ve ever had. He’s always been worried about things, so it’s sort of been a term I’ve used his entire life. I’ve always said β€œcalm and gentle” in situations where he felt worried, while attempting to remove the stressful stimulation, or help him be more calm about it.Β 

He was 3 before we started the buttons, and I had previously spent his whole life living with him, talking to him like he was my toddler roommate. So I think that gave him a stronger concept of language than most dogs. Once I gave him the ability to communicate, and he understood what he was supposed to do, he was so incredibly fast.Β 

β€œCalm” was the last button I have added. Originally when he tested it, he was mad. He barked and barked at the button, something he has never done. It took him far longer to use it than normal, and I think it is one of his least used buttons. I’m not sure if that’s because he doesn’t need it, or because he doesn’t like it. I model it during their wild playing before bed, but I feel like neither of them really stop to listen very well. The puppy is just in that stage of playing until he’s too tired, so neither of them stop to listen to me!

I just have always said β€œbe calm and gentle” during soothing times, and I think it’s just something he has a concept of now. I feel like I probably said it for a good year before it meant anything to him. Now he knows it means long, deep tissue pets, and that things will get better soon.Β 

I hope that helps! We definitely had the idea down before the button came.Β 
Anthea & Bones Β 
Wow! I actually didn’t know that, and I have spent a lot of time learning about reactive animals. I wonder if this is similar to anxious humans? Higher levels of cognition and higher IQ are more common in those with anxiety.Β 

This week, I started the process of rearranging his buttons onto hexagons in preparation for the hexTiles to come. I assumed this would be a very long and frustrating process to move our 25 words into different orders and shapes. But it hasn’t been! I moved the first button in the morning, and he had it down by noon. So I went ahead and moved a second button, and he had it figured out by that night! I now probably move a button every day or every other day, and he doesn’t even seem to mind. This is more evidence towards what you said. He was definitely very worried when I was moving his buttons and he said things like β€œmad” and a lot of β€œno.” I think he likes it better though! It’s so much easier for all the names, actions, places, etc to be organized.Β 

With the new configuration, the puppy has finally started to explore language beyond his own name and β€œplay.” 
Rebekah Casey yea the ppl who said it were basing it off of experience rather than research. But I do agree coz Bones picks up so much stuff so quickly and has some major issues with dogs.

That's so good to hear that he's doing so good with the movement of words!
Bones has some major issues with dogs and we've been able to work through his issues with food since adopting him in January. We're still really new to using the buttons but I am hoping that him being able to have a voice at home will help him feel comfortable to not react to dogs when we're out and instead find ways we can communicate together when out and about.
Scout had some food issues too when we first adopted her. She is ALWAYS looking for something to eat. In the beginning she would even bark and howl while we cooked and ate. It took a lot of work but she doesn't do that anymore. She's come such a long way since we first brought her home.Β 

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