Dog Cognition Project

Dog Cognition Project

The Comparative Cognition Lab at UCSD’s Animal Communication project is studying whether and to what extent animals trained to use Augmentative Interspecies Communication (AIC) devices, or soundboards, can communicate with their humans. The use of soundboards has the potential to be a powerful tool through which dogs, cats, and other domestic animals might be able to communicate their needs, wants, and internal states to their owners. The potential welfare impacts of this technology are powerful: if pets can tell their owners when they feel ill, for example, they might be taken to the vet sooner and treated before their condition becomes severe. Our work with AIC-using animals involves three broad scientific approaches: collection of owner-provided survey data, chronic video and audio recording of a small pool of participants over several months or years, and both remote and in-person controlled experiments.

Our goal is to understand pets and the profound bonds they share with humans. Through rigorous scientific investigation we seek to gain a deeper understanding of pets’ cognitive abilities as well as the underlying mechanisms and evolutionary basis of these abilities.


One way we investigate cognition and communication is through the use of Augmentative Interspecies Communication (AIC) devices, also known as “soundboards” or “buttons”. We know pets can communicate some of their needs to us without assistive devices. For example, has your dog ever scratched or whined at the door? You would probably know they wanted to go outside. Pets in our study use buttons that, when pressed by you or your dog, produce words like “outside”, “potty”, “walk”, etc. We explore how soundboards may allow pets to communicate about their wants, needs, and the world around them in new and unique ways, and we are interested in learning more about how AIC communication tools could strengthen the bond between pets and their humans, improve the health and wellbeing of pets, and allow us to explore animal cognition and capabilities in unique ways.


What makes our study so special is not just the innovative research we are able to conduct using AIC devices. The most incredible part of this research has always been the passion of our amazing participants! This project began as a simple idea to explore what it might be possible to learn about a small group of dogs that had begun to press buttons to communicate with their pet parents. Now, thousands of animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, and other animals have contributed to this study from over 45 countries all around the world! Because this citizen science project depends on our pet parents, we are tremendously thankful for the enthusiasm and dedication of every person and pet that contributes to this study. If you and your pet are interested in participating in this exciting project, please contact us by filling out the form at the bottom of this webpage.


Our research extends beyond the use of AIC devices! We study social interaction, communication, the relationships between pets and their humans, perception, reasoning, and other aspects of cognition in pets, as well as the underlying mechanisms of these abilities and their evolutionary basis. While our AIC studies are primarily conducted remotely, many of our other studies involve hands-on experiences for your pet in the lab or in your home. We try to make every in-person visit with your pet an enjoyable experience for them, and most have a great time playing games with us and receiving all the attention, pets, and treats they can get from our researchers! If you are interested in participating with your pet, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

Sign up your dog for our study!


My pet doesn’t have a soundboard, or hasn’t learned to use it yet. Can we still participate?

Of course! We study many aspects of cognition and soundboards are just one way we do this. If your pet is still learning to use it, the beginning of their learning journey is a great place to start. 


Can I have multiple pets participating in the same study?

Yes! For our non-AIC device studies you may be asked to interact with only one pet at a time while the other is out of the room.


What happens after I submit this form? What am I committing to?

Sending us the contact form is not a commitment to participate in a study. After we receive your form, we will send your first email from us with additional information, and we will invite you to take a survey about your pet that will give us some more information about them. After that you will be able to start submitting button data if you choose to.


I am already logging my pet’s button presses. Can I just share this data with you?

It is important that we collect certain information about your pet before we are able to use your data. After filling out the contact form above you will receive a link to a survey where you will provide information about your pet including their breed, age, familiarity with buttons, etc. After we have received this we will be glad to receive any data from your learner you may have!


What kinds of buttons or soundboard does my dog need to have in order to participate?

All button and soundboard designs, brands, and styles are equally well-suited to our research. We welcome learners using any and all kinds of buttons.


How do I get buttons? Does UCSD provide them?

Our participants typically purchase their own buttons that suit their needs and the needs of their pet. For example, a cat may need buttons that are easy to press with only a small amount of pressure, and a large dog may benefit from buttons that can be spaced out far apart to minimize accidental presses. A number of different types of buttons can be found online.


I do not want researchers to come to my house and/or cannot come to the UCSD campus. Can I sign up only for the studies involving remote participation?

Yes, absolutely! Our AIC study currently has the option to participate entirely remotely, so this is a great option for you. If you are interested in non-AIC studies we will contact you by email with the details of any new study, including whether it is expected to have an in-person component. You may decide at that time whether you are interested in participating or not.


My learner is a cat/goat/rabbit/hamster/etc. Can they sign up for CCL studies?

Our AIC study is open to all species. Our other studies are primarily focused on dogs and cats at this time, but you are welcome to sign up using the form above and we will contact you if there are any opportunities for your other pets to participate!


I am having a problem with my buttons, app, a camera, or something else.

For button or app problems, please contact the company that makes your buttons or app for assistance. If the materials you are having trouble with were specifically sent to you by UCSD, please directly contact your researcher for that study.


I have changed my e-mail address or other important information since I filled out the recruitment form. How can I update this?
Please e-mail us at with any important updates. We can make these changes for you. There is no need to re-submit the form.


I couldn’t include a picture of my soundboard while I was filling out the recruitment survey, but I have one now! How can I update this?
Please e-mail us at with any important updates. We can make these changes for you. There is no need to re-submit the form.


I do not want researchers to come to my house. Can I please sign up only for the studies involving remote participation?
Yes, absolutely! The survey will ask which types of studies you are interested in taking part in. You can opt out of in-person studies.


I already regularly fill out progress reports. Does that mean I don’t need to fill out this survey?
We use progress reports to look at longitudinal information about learner’s communicative abilities. Filling out progress reports does not enroll you in UCSD community science or in-person studies. In order to enroll in these studies, you must fill out our recruitment survey.