Bunny is a 1-year-old Sheepadoodle that uses a speech soundboard to communicate.
The so-called “talking” dog has amassed 5.6 million followers on TikTok. Bunny has used a hextile soundboard (which currently has 100 words on it) since she was a pup.
Much to the awe of TikTok users, whenever the dog wants something, she taps a button on the board to convey her message. Bunny is even able to combine words to say more complex phrases.
What’s really going on in all the adorable videos, though? Here’s what you need to know.
Who owns Bunny?
Alexis Devin owns Bunny. When Devine discovered speech-language pathologist’s Christina Hunger’s Instagram, she became inspired by how Hunger used a soundboard with her dog Stella. Devine then got started on Bunny’s language journey when she was just a puppy.
Can Bunny really talk?
The way the soundboard works is that each button generates speech associated with the word labeled on it. It is a device commonly used for nonverbal humans. Devine (and Hunger for that matter) use it to train their dogs.
For example, Bunny’s first word was “outside.” Each time she wanted to use the bathroom she would tap the word “outside.”
The real question for scientists is this: Is Bunny comprehending language, or is it just all noise to her?
“I am not a scientist but I recognize that large amounts of data need to be collected before we can make a judgment as to whether or not Bunny actually understands what she’s saying,” Devine told The Sun. “I’m also aware that I inevitably skew the data in favor of saying that Bunny is consciously communicating with me.”
Bunny uses a FluentPet Hextile soundboard with over 100 buttons, but whether or not the dog actually comprehends language is still inconclusive. Like with most training techniques, the dog could just be tapping certain sounds to yield certain rewards.
“My theory is that she memorizes their place like a keyboard,” Devine told The News Tribune. “Like, you know, pianists can play amazing music without having to look at keys — similar to that. It’s like muscle memory.”
The skeptics at Medium’s psychology publication The Rewired Soul say there are a few key ways to know if Bunny is speaking.
“We’d need to see if Bunny would answer when someone else [besides Devine] asks the questions and we’d also need to see if Bunny could answer without seeing the person. Bunny might be extremely smart, but she’s most likely reading other cues,” The Rewired Soul stated. “Another theory I have is that Bunny notices the happy tone in Alexis’ voice when she presses buttons that are coherent. This type of conditioning can train Bunny to press certain sequences.”
The dog’s seemingly intelligent behavior has spawned a number of memes and parody videos.
Regardless of whether Bunny is really talking, she has cultivated a huge fan base with a wild sense of humor. In a parody skit by TikTok user Phoebe Langwell, Bunny finally realized she’s being held captive by a human.
Meanwhile, Daily Show correspondent Jaboukie Young-White joked that Bunny was having an existential crisis after the dog looked in the mirror and asked “Who this? Go see.”
Bunny is currently a part of a language study at the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California at UC San Diego, so hopefully, we’ll be getting an answer on talking dogs soon-ish.
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