Some dogs are exceptionally talented at learning toy names | TeamDogs
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Some dogs are exceptionally talented at learning toy names

Seven Border Collies learned between 11 and 37 words during this study

Leila Marshall

Posted 2 months ago ago

(Image: Getty)


My dog loves all his toys and we have named each of them for him. There’s ‘piggy’, ‘ducky’ and ‘monkey’. But do our dogs really know their toys by name? And are all dogs equally good at it? 

There is some science behind the theory, and a study just published by a team of researchers of the Family Dog Project found that when dogs are tested in strict controlled conditions, a few gifted ‘word learner’ dogs learned multiple toy names, apparently effortlessly. 

The study, published in Scientific Reports, from a university in Budapest worked with 40 dogs on an intensive, three-month-long training programme aimed at teaching them the names of at least two dog toys. The training involved daily playful interactions between the dog and owner, during which the owner would repeat the name of the toy several times, and weekly training sessions with a dog trainer. 

As puppies are still developing and their brains are still growing, the researchers expected that this would have played a role in them learning object names at a faster rate, compared to the adult dogs. That is why they used both adults and puppies.  

Dr Claudia Fugazza, the leading researcher, said: “We were surprised to find that, despite the intensive training, most dogs, irrespective of their age, did not show any evidence of learning.  

“Even more surprisingly, seven adult dogs showed an exceptional learning capacity: they did not only learn the two toy names but, within the time of the study, they learned between 11 and 37 other novel toy names.” 

Out of the seven dogs, six of them already knew their toys’ names before the study began. The seventh dog, named Olivia, didn’t know any, but learned an impressive 21 in just two months. 

Shany Dor, co-author of the study, said: “All the seven dogs that showed this exceptional talent are Border Collies, a breed meant to co-operate with humans for herding purposes. But it is important to keep in mind that, within the many dogs that did not show any evidence of learning, there were also 18 Border Collies." 

Some dogs of other breeds are reported to have vocabulary knowledge. For example, a previous study found this intellect in a Yorkshire Terrier. Although it may increase the chances, being a Border Collie is not necessary or enough to be a gifted word learner dog. 

Dr Adam Miklósi, head of the Department of Ethology and co-author of the study, thinks that dogs, thanks to their evolution and development in the human environment, are the ideal species to take up the challenge to study the origins of talent, and variation, across individuals in mental capabilities. 

He said: “This is just the beginning of a journey that will lead us to better understand the roots of talent, like why some individuals, humans or other species, are gifted in a given field.” 

This would not be the first time that our dogs would teach us lessons about ourselves. 

To recruit more of these gifted dogs for their studies, the researchers of the Eötvös Loránd University have launched the Genius Dog Challenge http://geniusdogchallenge.com – a project that has already gone viral on social media, like here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDvr5quzSS8xmOPOHzMokjA 

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