The dog is man’s friend par excellence and making him play is among the favorite activities of adults and children. Researchers from Eotvos Lora’nd University in Budapest, Hungary, wanted to investigate this aspect, intrigued by the ability of some four-legged animals to remember the names of their toys, just like children.
In fact, the Hungarian university organizes Genius Dog Challenge, an online competition in which puppies from all over the world prove to be the most intelligent. Experts found that both young and old dogs had the ability to learn toy names. Surprisingly, one of the dogs, a Border Collie named Gaia, was able to recognize the names of as many as 37 toys. But the ability to learn toy names is relatively rare in dogs and only evident in a number of “gifted” individuals, say the authors of the study published in Scientific Reports.
For the Hungarian study, as part of their “Family Dog Project”, the researchers devised an intensive three-month training program aimed at teaching the 40 dogs the names of at least two toys. This is because two is the minimum number needed to judge whether dogs can distinguish objects based on their names. The training protocol involved daily play interactions between the dog and the owner, during which the owner repeated the name of the toy several times and in addition, weekly sessions than with a dog trainer.
During the tests, the researchers asked the owners to sit in one room while the toys were placed in another. When the owners asked the dog for a toy, the dog left the owner and chose a toy from the other room. In all, seven adult dogs, all Border Collies, showed “exceptional learning ability”: not only did they learn the two toy names but, over the course of the study, they learned between 11 and 37 other new toy names. Other breeds involved in the study included Border Terrier, King Poodle, Australian Shepherd, and Schnauzer.
Among those seven dogs, six – Gaia, Max, Whiskey, Nalani, Squall, and Rico – already possessed a vocabulary of toy names before the study began. But the Border Collies were the best students: one, named Gaia, mastered 37 names. The researchers also found that both puppies and mature dogs had the ability to learn toy names, which came as a surprise because puppies generally have greater neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt. Although 37 is a lot of names to learn, it doesn’t compare to the results of the “smartest dog in the world” called Chaser, who knew more than 1,000 names. Chaser, who died in 2019, was also a Border Collie, commonly referred to as the smartest dog breed.
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