At just 2 years old, Parker Crasnow has an extensive vocabulary.

She has no problem using words to convey whenever she feels hungry or tired or is in the mood to play. She is constantly curious, asking for words to explain new sights and sounds.

She is not unlike most toddlers, except for the fact that Parker — who knows nearly 100 words — is a dog.

A beagle mix, Parker uses a series of buttons to communicate. The buttons have pre-recorded words and phrases, and Parker has learned to press one with her paw whenever she wishes to “speak.” For instance, she often presses “outside” or “play” whenever she wishes to go into the backyard.

Parker uses dozens of buttons on the floor with pre-recorded words and phrases to communicate. (Patrick Wood)

Sascha Crasnow, Parker’s owner and a lecturer in Islamic arts and culture in the Residential College in LSA, said being able to understand Parker has been an incredible experience.

Crasnow first learned about so-called “talking dogs” from her stepdad, who sent her videos from social media. She was immediately interested and read through the book “How Stella Learned to Talk” by speech-language pathologist Christina Hunger. Upon finishing the book, Crasnow ordered buttons from Fluent Pet, a company that launched in 2020.

Parker’s first six buttons were: play, outside, food, water, all done, toy. Since Parker was 6 months old when she started, Crasnow expected the process to take some time.

She set out the buttons and pressed each one so that Parker could see and hear the different placements. As Crasnow finished explaining and turned around, she heard Parker press the “all done” button.



By that night, Parker had successfully pressed all six buttons. Crasnow said she was shocked by how effectively Parker used the buttons to make observations about the world.

“The first press that like really blew my mind was when there was an ambulance parked outside our house, and Parker was staring out the window at it for a really long time. And then eventually she left the window, walked over to her board (of buttons) and she pressed ‘squeaker’ and ‘car’ to talk about the ambulance,” Crasnow said.

Following Parker’s quick success with the buttons, Crasnow enrolled her in a study run by researchers at the University of California, San Diego that examines how dogs use the buttons and form verbal connections to communicate.

Crasnow has a camera in her home that captures every time Parker presses a button. The buttons use Bluetooth to log every press into an online database. Crasnow said since Parker is particularly “chatty” — she averages about 100 presses each day, even when Crasnow is not home with her — the online database has been helpful in understanding Parker’s patterns.

“The most frequently pressed word is ‘poop,’ and I think partially it’s because she uses it to mean a bunch of different things. She uses it to mean, yes, she needs to poop, but she also uses it to refer to the backyard. … I also think she sometimes presses it because she thinks it’s funny because I laugh if she presses it sometimes,” Crasnow said.

Crasnow now has 97 buttons in her home setup. The words Parker is currently working to master include “hot,” “cold,” “big” and “small.” She often presses “sweater” to ask Crasnow to put on one of her sweaters and “stranger” whenever she hears or smells someone new.

One moment with the buttons that stands out to Crasnow occurred when her dad came to town to visit. He was sitting on the couch next to Crasnow, and Parker walked over to her button board and pressed three words: “what,” “word,” and “human.” Crasnow said she figured Parker was asking to learn what word to use when referring to her dad.

Parker’s proficiency with the buttons has not only captivated Crasnow and her friends and family, but thousands of people online. Shortly after Parker started using the buttons, Crasnow launched an Instagram account called Puppy Parker Posey to post videos of Parker using the buttons to communicate. The account now has more than 80,000 followers.

Although the “talking dog” community is gaining popularity online, many scientists remain skeptical if the buttons actually allow the dogs to communicate better than simply using body language. Crasnow said Parker communicates ideas so complex there would not be any way to discern her meaning without the buttons.

“People have a lot of reasons that they’re skeptical, and in part, it’s because this is all very new,” Crasnow said. “I think a lot of this is kind of a desire to parse differences between animals and non-human animals. … I think seeing how much more similar we are and our ability to kind of like cross-species communicate is better for both of us and for them.”

“A lot of people are like, ‘Well, this isn’t language,’ which I think is kind of beside the point. Like, I don’t care whether this is language or not. It’s communication.”


What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?

The first time a student I advised on their honors thesis graduated and spoke about their research that had come out of a class I taught.

What can’t you live without?

My dog, Parker, and chocolate.

Name your favorite spot on campus.

The U-M Museum of Art.

What inspires you?

My colleagues and students who always give me new ways to think about things (both scholarly and life things).

What are you currently reading?

I’m listening to “The Winners” by Fredrik Backman and reading “Scattered All Over the Earth” by Yoko Tawada.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My mom. Both my parents have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but my mom went the academic route and also continued to be engaged in conferences and research despite having a teaching-focused position at a community college. Her hard work, persistence and unflagging interest in her intellectual pursuits continue to influence and inspire me.

"Lecturer's dog uses buttons to help it communicate" Originally published April 10, 2023 in The University Record. By Katie Kelton