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  • Writer's pictureShari Simpson

Oski (and his Person, Alli)

Pug People, we have a very special guest for you today: a talking pug. How does this magic work, you ask? Keep reading to meet Oski and Alli, who work with FluentPet's Talking Dog & Cat Buttons to communicate, Pug to Person. It's absolutely fascinating, but we also know you're going to love Oski and Alli themselves, because they are quite hilarious. Enjoy!

PP: Alli, so happy to talk to you. Are we wrong, or did you get Oski because of Deborah and Hope? (we interviewed @hopethewhite pug a few months ago)

Alli: Yes, Deborah got Hope and then posted a picture of these other white pugs—um—well, Oski was a leftover pug, really, but that’s another story. And I told my husband it was time for a dog. He had never had one before in his life!

PP: We’re always intrigued by people who grew up without animals and their reactions to their first dog or cat.

Alli: Before we went to meet Oski, my husband was all “I’ll know if a dog is for me”. Then we sat down on the patio and this little four-month old pug got right in his lap and my husband’s face totally changed. I knew right then and there that we were Pug People.

PP: The power of the pug puppy! So, Oski is your first pug, but not your first dog, right?

Alli: Oh no, growing up, I had a springer spaniel, a basset hound, a German shepherd, a German shorthair pointer, a cocker spaniel—

PP: Wow, your family was true ‘dog people’.

Alli: And cats, too. Lots of cats.

PP: Okay, so we’ve heard this from so many folks we’ve interviewed—they’ve had dogs their whole lives and then they get a pug and they’re like “I’ll never have anything but a pug again.” Pug People forever. Do you feel that way?

Alli: (hesitates) I do. And I only hesitate because… the shedding.

PP: We knew you were going there.

Alli: I mean, can you see this? There’s fur flying around me right now! But the funny thing is, I’ve adapted, because now whenever I feel stressed or anxious, I vacuum. And I vacuum three times a day, minimum.

PP: That’s brilliant. Because, seriously, pugs just walk around in a puffy cloud of their own making.

Alli: We have a dark wood floor that we got about eight months before Oski and I told my husband, “We did not choose well.” When we get a new couch, we’re going to get a white one.

PP: Okay, Alli, let's get to the meat of this interview. Tell us the story of how you starting using the talking buttons for Oski.

Alli: Well, the short answer is, I’m just kinda quirky. I have this thing I do that I call “helium hand”, like when somebody is asking for a volunteer for something, up my hand goes and “I’ll do it!”

Alli: So, I was boarding a plane on November 5, 2019—I remember the date, exactly-- because I was going with my girlfriends to San Francisco. I pulled up Apple News and there’s this story about this speech pathologist who had students that used AAC, which is Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools, and she decided to apply that method to her dog. I’m reading this and before we left the tarmac, I got on Amazon and purchased the buttons. And when I got back home after the trip, I started the button training. Because I want to know what my Oski has to say.

PP: So, how does the system work?

Alli: You program the buttons with your own voice. Like you say “Outside”, so every time he pushes that button, he hears your voice say “Outside”. We started with just a few buttons. It’s a lot of word association and remembering where the particular buttons are. I label the buttons for my own benefit and someone asked me if he was reading the labels. (laughs) No, he’s not reading them.

PP: And he’s figured out that if he presses a certain button—

Alli: Yeah, it elicits a certain reaction from me. I’ll be honest, some days I think “He doesn’t have a clue” what he’s doing, but other days… lately, we’re getting a lot more sequences, more words in order, like sentences.

PP: That is CRAZY.

Alli: Oski is a stickler for routine, he loves a routine. He goes out for a walk with my husband and he always gets a treat when he gets back. And one day, we forgot and he went to the soundboard and starting pressing the buttons for “Walk” and “Treat”.

PP: Dudes, you forgot my treat!

Alli: Oski is in a study with UC San Diego for a comparative cognition lab. I have to record his button pushes every day and send them the data, so they can figure out if our dogs are really talking to us and what they’re saying and what are they talking about. They’re going to have that information compiled in a couple of years if not sooner.

PP: But how did you originally get him to associate the button with the action? Like, did you press his paw on the “Outside” button and then take him outside?

Alli: I did modeling. With the “Outside” button, initially I put it right by the back door. And when I was going outside or I wanted him to go outside, I would press it with my foot and we’d go outside. So then every time he pressed it, I would open the door. And he knows that button now, we moved it away from the door and he still knows to press it to ask to go out.

PP: We love this so much. Because I (Shari) am one of those crazy people who gives a voice to my pugs. Like, we have conversations; I talk, then I talk back to myself in ‘their’ voice. We’ve found that about half of the Pug People we interview say “Oh, I do the exact same thing” and half go “huh?” We assume you don’t do that because Oski already has a way to communicate.

Alli: When he’s looking at me, I say “What do you want?” and then I wait and he knows to go to the soundboard. But sometimes I say “No”. Like, he can’t push “Treat” all day long.

PP: So, outside of being able to request snackies, does Oski have any quirks?

Alli: He loves watching TV, but freaks out at horses or cows. My husband and I watch “Yellowstone” but we have to wait until he’s asleep.

PP: And are you a pug paraphernalia person, Alli?

Alli: Mmm… not really.

PP: Yeah, you don’t seem like someone who has forty pairs of pug socks.

Alli: Oh. Now, see, I should have been more prepared for this question, because I do have pug socks. And t-shirts. And coffee cups. Yeah… yeah. And I just remembered that I—my daughter’s the president of her sorority-- that I bought my husband a hoodie and I had Greek letters put on the front, except I made it say P-U-G. He won't wear it, but I do.

PP: So… you are a pug paraphernalia person.

Alli: I guess that’s a ‘yes’.

PP: What do you like about Pug People?

Alli: Well, they’re quirky, so I feel right at home. We’re okay with ‘what you see is what you get’. What I love, and I’m not sure I’m on board with it, but I do love the dressing up others do with their pugs.

PP: But you don’t do that.

Alli: Well… funny, I actually woke up yesterday thinking that Oski should have a bowtie. And then I thought, I’ll make my own material with Oski’s face on it and I’ll have a bowtie made, and that will be Oski’s shtick.

PP: You’re our kind of Person, Alli. And you've read enough of our interviews to know what our last question is: do you have a True Pug Confession?

Alli: Hmm… I don’t think so.

PP: Okay.

Alli: Oh, wait. My husband likes to tote Oski around in a Baby Bjorn for fun. Does that qualify?

PP: That definitely qualifies.

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