Pet Cognition & Communication

Pet Cognition & Communication

Sign up with your pet here to participate in any of our pet studies!

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.

Ready to get started?


Do you do any other studies besides the soundboard study?

Yes! We conduct many other cognition studies and are always looking for participants. Please fill out the sign-up form if you are interested in participating with your pet! We offer studies conducted remotely, at your home, and in person at our lab in San Diego!


I am interested in the soundboard study, but my pet doesn’t have a soundboard, or hasn’t learned to use it yet. Can we still sign up?
If your pet is still learning to use their board, we encourage you to sign up now! If you have not begun using buttons yet, you are welcome to fill out the sign-up survey and it will ask you whether you are currently using a soundboard or not.


Can my pet participate in more than one study?
Yes! Please check all of the boxes in the sign-up form for studies you might be interested in!


Can I have multiple pets participating in the same study?
Yes! For the AIC-study, you will need to track which pet pressed which buttons.


What happens after I complete the sign-up 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 may invite you to take an additional survey about your pet that will give us some more information about them, depending on which studies you indicated an interest in. After that, we will contact you when there is a study that would be a good fit for your pet that you may choose whether or not to sign up for, and we will also send periodic emails with other information, such as updates on our ongoing projects so you can learn more about the research you are contributing to as a participant. Emails can be opted out of at any time.


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 sign-up 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 able to receive any data from your learner you may have automatically!


Will I be sent my participant ID? My app says I need to enter this information.
We have simplified the process of data entry for participants using an app to enter button presses by their pets. Participants no longer need to enter their participant ID to submit data. 


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 themselves and 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. Many people choose to use the FluentPet Connect system for convenience; when one of these buttons are pressed, it is automatically logged in the FluentPet app, a button-tracking app that many of our participants choose to use. A number of different types of buttons can be found online and participants are encouraged to pick the button set that works best for their pet and for them. 


I already log my pet’s buttons and/or regularly fill out progress reports. Does that mean I don’t need to fill out the sign-up survey?For those joining this study in Dec. 2023 or later, you must fill out our sign-up form in order to enroll in UCSD studies, including the soundboard/AIC study. Just logging buttons does not enroll you in any UCSD study. 

If you began logging buttons prior to Dec. 2023, you may have enrolled in this study using an alternative method. If this applies to you, you are still enrolled in this study and do not need to take further action. If you are unsure whether this applies to you, or just want to make sure you and your pet are enrolled in this study, please submit the contact form below or email us at 


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


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


I do not want researchers to come to my house and/or cannot come to the UCSD campus. Can I participate in one but not the other? Do you offer any remote studies?
Yes! 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 offer remote, in-person at our lab in San Diego, and in-person in your home studies, and you can choose which of these studies, if any, that you want to participate in on an individual basis.

We will contact you by email with the details of any new study you might be interested in, based on your initial preferences that you indicated when filling out the sign-up form. You may decide at that time whether you are interested in participating or not. If you wish to update your preferences for study types, please contact us at


My learner is a cat/goat/rabbit/hamster/etc. Can they sign up for CCL studies?
Our AIC study is open to all species and we would love to have them sign up! Our other studies are primarily focused on dogs and cats at this time, but you are welcome to sign up using the sign-up form 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.

Any other questions? Let us know!