Genius dogs can learn a new toy name after hearing it only four times

Gifted dogs can learn the names of toys incredibly quickly. One genius dog has learned the names of a hundred toys according to scientists who conducted an experiment on bright dogs to see how fast they could learn. The dogs took part in the Genius Dog Challenge. They found that they learnt 12 new toy names in a week. They remembered the names for two months.

Genius dog learns names very quickly
Genius dog learns names very quickly. Photo: Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary.

The lead researcher is Shany Dror, from the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary. She said: “We know that dogs can easily learn words that are linked to actions, such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’. But very few dogs can learn names of objects.”

The researchers spent two years looking for intelligent dogs and came up with six: Max from Hungary, Gaia from Brazil, Nalani from the Netherlands, Squall from the US, Whisky from Norway and Rico from Spain. They were all border collies.

In order to participate in the challenge, they had to prove that they knew the names of more than 28 toys. As mentioned, one new the names of a hundred toys. They found that gifted dogs can learn new names of toys very quickly and only after four training sessions. They also found that after such a short exposure to the name their memory faded quite quickly; they failed form a long-term memory for the names.

The researchers asked the dogs’ owners to teach them the names of six toys and then the names of 12 new toys all in one week. They were able to achieve this. During the teaching progress the dogs’ owners had to select one of the new toys which they presented to their dog and while they repeated the toy’s name, they encourage their dog to bite the toy and toss it into the air. They also asked their dog to fetch it from a pile of other objects or to retrieve it from another room.

After seven days, the new toys were scattered on the floor mixed up with other old toys. Their owners were seated in a different room. They called the name of the new toys in a random order asking their dogs to retrieve them.

The project was carried out at a distance during the Covid pandemic. The dog owning participants were asked to set up two video cameras at home. They connected to the Internet via live streams so that the researchers could monitor both of them. It is an example of how you can conduct scientific study at a distance using modern technology.

As perhaps as expected, border collies are particularly talented according to the scientists who ran the project. Some German shepherds, Pekingese and mini–Australian Shephard dogs are also talented. They believe that some dogs have “cognitive skills that are functionally similar to those of human infants”.

The study is published in Royal Society Open Science.


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