I’m looking for a button to train dog to press to trigger a voice notification… I’ve seen some, like that Logitech Pop Button, but I don’t want the hassle of a secondary hub. I’ve also heard about that Fibaro but that it is iffy and something about it working in the UK but not the US (like, really?)…
Press with nose or paw? (Buttons to be pressed with the nose generally need to be a little softer if possible, but most dogs can more easily press a concave button with their nose than with their paw) And does the dog already know how to press a button? Also, what’s the breed/size of the dog? Larger dogs generally like larger buttons.
And for most dogs, pressing a button with their nose is a much more natural behavior then pressing it with their paw, especially if it’s mounted at nose height, as long as the button doesn’t have any sharp corners. More natural generally means a more reliable behavior, which can be important in an emergency especially if the dog is likely to be distracted by anything else going on. Alternatively, a button push with the paw on a button which is on the floor or just a few inches above will also tend to be very natural movement.
That’s not a big deal, a well-trained dog should have at least 95% reliability in either case, but making it just that much easier for the dog could pay off in an emergency situation, so it’s just something to be aware of.
I myself am quadriparetic (use a wheelchair and have limited hand function), so my Service dog has been trained to work with many different kinds of buttons and switches. It becomes pretty obvious which kind he prefers to work with, so as always the most important thing is to know your own dog.
The following will be a long review of several different buttons and switches that we have used .
The short answer is that even though there’s an extra bridge, if you can afford $60 for the starter kit, the Logitech POP is probably going to be your best choice for convenience cases. If an Internet connection is available via Wi-Fi, it can do many different things, and if the Internet is out it can still turn on some lights or run a Harmony activity or a few other things.
If you need a button that could use your phone’s cellular connection to send an email even if your Wi-Fi is out, then the flic button can do that, so it might be better suited to some emergency use cases. It’s also a good button to take with you outside the home.
But there are a number of different devices that can work, and we’ve tried a bunch of them. So some of it is just a matter of your own preferences and of course those of your dog!
1. Logitech Pop Buttons
Hands down (paws up ) my dog’s favorite is the Logitech POP buttons. They are large, rubbery and easy to push. There’s nothing really to the extra bridge – – it just plugs into the wall and it’s pretty much set and forget.
The bridge comes in two versions. The first generation worked with the Harmony Hub, IFTTT, Hue, Lutron, and there is also an official SmartThings integration. The second generation works with everything the first generation does OR can be set up to work with HomeKit. The same buttons work with either. The only way to tell the difference is that the second generation bridge will say that it’s compatible with HomeKit.
Pop details: Color, Size, and Feel
The buttons come in several different colors, which is nice if you want to have two on the wall near each other and make it easy for the dog to learn which one you want them to press.
Alloy (Gray) and white are a nice contrasting pair as long as the wall itself isn’t white.
Unfortunately the color coral and teal don’t really help because due to the way dogs see colors those will look almost exactly the same shade as the Alloy to the dog. But you can use either one as a contrast to the white.
As an alternative to distinctions by color, most dogs are really good at recognizing geometric shapes, and can easily tell a square from a triangle from a star. So just cut out very simple big shapes and put one on each button. Make sure the tape is high contrast with the button, so just blue painter’s tape is good and will peel off easily later if you change your mind.
These buttons are big, about half the size of a mobile phone. Or the size of a drinks coaster. I think that’s the main reason my dog likes them: with a big broad nose like labradors, the bigger buttons are just easier. They have a nice soft rubbery feel.
The pop button allows for tap, double tap, and long hold. I’ve known some teams where the dog was able to learn the difference between a tap and a double tap, but my dog never has, and I myself can’t do that reliably. So we just program all three functions on the button to be the same. It does mean you need one button for on and one button for off for some situations, but in the case of your voice notification you would only need one.
As far as reliability, I know there have been some Amazon reviews saying the buttons weren’t reliable, but we haven’t had that issue and we have them in several places around the house. I think there were probably two likely reasons for the complaints. One is that the button might be too far from the bridge, but I would think people would probably figure that out.
The second potential problem is Wi-Fi interference. These are Bluetooth buttons, which means strong WiFi can drown them out and cause a message to be lost. If you have the button or the bridge within about 6 feet of the Wi-Fi router or a Wi-Fi booster, then from time to time, like when you are streaming Netflix, the button might have a hard time getting its messages through. Because I knew that before I ever got the buttons, I was aware of it when deciding where to put them. But someone who has a button close to a Wi-Fi booster might have intermittent problems depending on what else they were using the Wi-Fi for at any particular time.
Pop notes: Value
There’s no getting around it: the downside of the Pop buttons is the cost. The starter kit is expensive, the individual buttons are expensive, and they seem to hardly ever be on sale. Logitech knows that when it comes to HomeKit buttons they don’t have any competition yet, and they price accordingly. I keep hoping some more manufacturers will release HomeKit buttons and the competition will drive the price down, but for now, it will cost $60 for one bridge with one button for the second generation.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a store carrying the first generation bridge which comes with two buttons sold at the same price. That one will work just as well with SmartThings and IFTTT. It just won’t work with HomeKit. But usually the older one will cost about $20 more dollars more, so you’ll spend $80 for two buttons and the bridge.
Pop details: Connection Requirements
If your Wi-Fi is working but the Internet is out, this bridge can still be used with HomeKit. Or if you have the bridge set up in the non-HomeKit configuration it will still work with the Logitech Harmony hub, and it may still work with the Phillips hue bridge. It requires an active Internet connection to work with SmartThings or IFTTT. So this is a good button for convenience, but may not meet your needs for emergencies.
The bridge is easy to take with you if you are going to visit friends, but you won’t be able to use these buttons if you are just going shopping.
2. Flic Buttons
Flic buttons were on the market before the pop buttons and are very similar in feel and function, but they’re about the size of a quarter. They retail at $34 each, but are frequently on sale at about 20% off, or if you need a bunch of them you can buy a multibutton package at a discount. ( for example, right now the limegreen is on sale at $22.) They come in more colors than the Pop buttons, and most dogs will be able to recognize the yellow color as well as the white and black. And some will also be able to distinguish the blue from the other three.
You can also buy them from the manufacturer site, and that’s a good place to check for sales:
Flic notes: The main thing to know about these is that you either have to have them link to a tablet which is home all the time (that’s what we do) or they will only work when your phone is home or you have to buy the new separate bridge.
(Also, there is a less expensive pre-programmed button model, but you won’t be able to use those for your purpose because I don’t think you can change the function on them.)
So I like these buttons, and they are comfortable to work with a knee or elbow, and my dog can use them, but you have to have a phone or the bridge to make it work and my own dog prefers a bigger button.
Flic details: connection requirements
Requires an active Internet connection for most functions, some things it can do just by talking to your phone. But unlike most of the devices on this list, if you have it paired to your phone, it can use your phone’s cellular connection rather than having to use your home Wi-Fi. That won’t help you as far as integration with SmartThings, because SmartThings will need its own cloud connection, but you can use a flic button, for example, to send an emergency Gmail even if your home WiFi is out. So the flic offers some options that some of the other devices do not.
In particular, this is the button to use if you want one that will work if you are out shopping or just walking around the neighborhood, as long as you will have your phone with you.
Because this is a small button with its own adhesive, it’s very easy to attach to a wheelchair or walker. Some people with kids who have service dogs even attach them to the child’s shoe. I have two on my wheelchair, one down low where it’s easy for my dog to reach and one on the armrest that I can use with the heel of my hand.
On the other hand, if you use the flic with a bridge, instead, you give that up, and then the connectivity is exactly the same as the pop.
3. Amazon Echo Button
Excellent price (two for $20), good size, but a harder feel then the Logitech POP button. As of November 2018, pressing one of these buttons can trigger and Amazon routine (not a smartthings routine), and then you can either have echo speak whatever voice notification you want, or you can have it turn on the switch. And if you make that a virtual switch from SmartThings, you can then trigger pretty much anything smartthings can do. So a very nice new option if you’re OK with the form factor and the fact that it’s a hard button. My dog is happy to press these with his paw and we use them for some locations. But he doesn’t like to press it with his nose.
4. Sylvania Dimmer Switch
This device has a lot of possibilities. It will work out of the box with SmartThings as a two button switch, and you could either set both buttons to the same function or if your dog is good with switches you might be able to teach different functions for each. It can be mounted on the wall or used on a table or the floor. The buttons are quite easy to push and distinct. The only question is whether the dog will understand the difference between pushing one end of it and just pushing in the middle. But it might be worth a try.
If you only want to use it with smart lightbulbs, it doesn’t need Internet, Wi-Fi, or even a SmartThings hub. You can just pair it With the bulbs and after that as long as the dimmer switch is close enough to the bulbs it will be able to turn them on and off.
The problem is that feature is specifically limited to control of certain models of smart lightbulbs. If you want to use the switch to trigger anything else, you have to also have the SmartThings Hub working, and the SmartThings hub will have to have an active Internet connection to the SmartThings cloud. So if you wanted to take it with you when you went to a friend’s, you would have to take your smartthings hub as well. And obviously you can’t use it while you are out shopping.
If you are using it for features that require the SmartThings hub, then personally would have concerns about relying on it for emergencies because occasionally SmartThings does push out updates which can take your smartthings hub off-line for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
But I do like it as a convenience button, and if you just wanted to control a single smartbulb, it could be good for hotel travel, too.
5. Philips Dimmer Switch
If you already have a Phillips hue bridge, then their dimmer Switch may work.
But the way you will probably use it is to have the switch turn on a hue light and then have that light coming on trigger some other event. This would work fine with SmartThings or Homekit but will not work with IFTTT because you can only use Hue devices as a “that” not as a “if” with IFTTT.
Philips Dimmer Switch details: functionality
We do use this in our house. My dog can press the hue dimmer switch to turn on a light. And after about six weeks of additional training, he knows how to push eitherrr the on or the off on the same switch. I like the fact that it comes with magnets so it works great on the refrigerator or a filing cabinet
I have two housemates, and one of them is pretty much oblivious to everything if he’s playing video games. He won’t see his text messages, he won’t hear someone calling. And he may have his door closed, so the dog can’t go in there by himself.
We set up a Hue light strip along the cabinet under his TV and have that set to come on as a Light blue if I need his help. My dog can press the hue dimmer switch in my room that turns on that light in my housemate’s room. We could then also have other events happen because that light strip came on if we wanted.
The hue dimmer switch is a good reliable heavyweight battery powered device which typically costs just under $25. And you can get two functions from it. But you would have to also have the hue bridge and it is definitely more difficult to train a dog to use this then one of the standalone buttons. you need a dog who has a lot of experience with buttons and switches so they can learn to be precise enough to hit the top and bottom each time on cue. Still, it fits some use cases.
The hue bridge will work on Wi-Fi locally, you do not need an active Internet connection. So the Hue dimmer switch and the tap Switch will communicate with the bridge and can turn lights on even if the Internet is out.
And after recent feature update, the hue bridge can also talk to your SmartThings hub using just your local Wi-Fi, it won’t have to go to SmartThings cloud first.
Those lights coming on will be able to trigger other HomeKit events without needing an active Internet connection.
Also, if all you want to do is control a light, you can use a Hue dimmer switch without the hue bridge, the same way as the Sylvania dimmer switch works. So again, that could be nice if you were going to stay at a friend’s or for some hotel travel. But it will only work for light.
But the next question is can you have the Hue dimmer switch turning on a hue lightbulb trigger other smart things events? And here’s where it gets complicated, because SmartThings is complicated.
The SmartThings official “smart lights” feature can run without needing an active Internet connection, but it only does a few things. Basically things which just operate a switches.
So even if the Internet is out, you could have pressing the Hue dimmer switch turn on a chime or a siren as long as those models are “eligible to run locally.” And as long as you are only using the official smartlights feature.
For any other SmartThings events or for IFTTT, you will need an active Internet connection.
So this could be a good emergency button if you are just using it to trigger lights or a siren, but might not be suited to other emergency setups. And you can’t use it if you are just out shopping. It could work well for convenience use cases, though.
6. Hue Tap Button
The tap button looks like it would be easier for a dog to use, especially if you program all the functions to do the same thing, and it would be a good button for a dog to step on. It’s hard plastic and gives a click so it’s pretty easy to train with. But it’s not good for dogs who like to use their noses because it’s easy to press it on one side and still not actually activate any of the functions.
It’s hard to tell from the picture but in addition to the three separate depressions if you just push the switch on the tiny dot outside of the buttons that’s a function, also. But again, you have to be more precise than you might think to make it work. And it’s expensive. So I wouldn’t really recommend this one. But it might work for some people. We have a couple, and we’ve tried them, but at this point it’s only the able-bodied people in the house who use them.
Again, you will have to have the hue bridge as well.
7. A new product: a battery operated toggle switch from Ecolink
There’s a new product which just came on the market in mid 2017, a battery powered toggle switch. It’s intended to fit over an existing switch so that it can be used with smart lightbulbs, but it would work directly with SmartThings ( no bridge or IFTTT required), and it’s worth considering. I’m not sure how hard it would be for a dog to use and I’m not sure how good the battery life is. @ajpri has been working with this, so he might have some ideas. to me, this looks like a switch that a dog would work with a paw, not nose.
This could be used as a simple Z wave switch with SmartThings and would not require an active Internet connection for anything that could run locally with the official smartlights feature. But it would require an active Internet connection for any other cloud actions. And the usual caveats about SmartThings’ reliability also apply.
8. A plug-in cord with a foot button
Another option that we use at my house is a plug-in button intended for controlling Christmas tree lights. This is super easy for my dog to step on, and it’s a toggle so the first step turns it on and the second step turns it off. We used this before I had any home automation to turn onto chime.
Nowadays, we link it into the home automation by having turn on a lamp with a smart bulb, and then have that smart bulb coming on trigger events in the home automation system. It works very well for us.
If you already have the hue bridge, you can trigger HomeKit events this way or SmartThings events.
But if you just have SmartThings and you don’t have a Hue bridge, you can still do this with some brands of lightbulbs, particularly GE Link.
Now I should say this isn’t something you want to use multiple times a week, because there is an inrush current each time power is restored to the bulb, and it will reduce the bulb’s working life over time. Making an expensive bulb that much more expensive. But if you just want something to be available in emergencies, that you might only use four or five times a year, this is worth considering because it’s very easy to train the dog to use.
Walmart typically has these for under $5 around the holidays. Amazon will carry some models all year round at around $12.
As I mentioned, we use this at my house before I ever had any home automation. If you just want a light to come on or a call chime to go off or really anything that will just work off an extension cord, this will work very well.
But once you have the extension cord turn on a smart bulb so the bulb coming on will trigger other home automation events, then you are limited by the connection requirements of the smart bulb.
9. Other Battery Powered Options
There almost 2 dozen other options that you could look at, and they are all listed in the buttons FAQ. However, most of the others are less suitable for dogs either because they’re too small, or not reliable enough. Or they may require a lot of technical set up. So there are other options to consider, but they wouldn’t be my top recommendations.
10. The Wired Light Switch Option
One other alternative is just to go with a regular light switch. These are generally more reliable than the battery operated options and most dogs can learn to use them. And in a home automation system you could have the light Switch coming on after you’ve gone to bed also Trigger other emergency events that it doesn’t trigger before you’ve gone to bed. It may not fit your use case, but I did just want to mention it.
A. Training a dog to press a button
You may already know all of this, but usually the most challenging thing in training a dog to use a button is knowing when the dog actually pressed the button!
We used to use batterypowered tap lights that had a soft light (not a bright light) just because it was very easy to tell when the dog had pressed hard enough because the light would come on. So something like this:
But now if you are using a button which connects to the home automation system anyway, you can just use the actual button The dog will be using and initially just make it have a light come on. Again, that light is so that you the trainer know the dog pressed hard enough, it’s not information for the dog. So the whole process has gotten a lot easier.
Other than that, the process for training a dog to use a button is very similar to the traditional method for training a service dog to use a light switch. Donna Hill has a great free 3 Part video on this task:
I’m afraid it will go out of date too quickly, there are new devices being brought to market all the time. But it’s tagged to show up on the accessibility list and the animals list on the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki, so people will be able to find it in the future.