Gifted dogs can learn 12 words in a week and remember them for months

Although a Border collie is not one of six gifted dogs in the Elayne Massaini/Getty Images study, it is still a Border collie.
Dogs who have a unique ability to understand human language may learn up to 12 new words per week. They can also remember these words after two months.

Researchers have found that about 12 pet dogs around the world possess the rare ability to learn words. These dogs can associate objects with words, which is unlike other well-trained dogs who are able distinguish between commands like stay and sit.

Shany Dror, Etvs Lornd University, Hungary, said that scientists have found that these Gifted Word Learner Dogs can learn human words at speeds comparable to 1-year-old human babies.

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Dror and her colleagues discovered less than a year ago that some dogs had an apparently extraordinary natural ability to name objects. They concluded that this ability was similar in human beings with mathematical or musical giftedness.

They used social media to find more Gifted Word Learner Dogs around the globe. They found six Border collie qualifying dogs with an average age of 3.6 and a vocabulary of 26 words. Three males and three women were found in the USA, Brazil, Spain and the Netherlands.

Each dog's owner was sent a box with six toys by the researchers. The researchers gave each dog owner six days to teach their dogs how to name the toys using their normal methods. These consisted of playing with each toy and the dog for about half an hour per day.

The research team used online video conference to assess the dogs' ability to identify each toy from a variety of old and new toys scattered on the floor after the six-day learning period. Each owner was asked to take their dog to a room, and then to tell the dog to fetch a specific toy. For example, "Bring the alien!" All six toys were successfully returned by the dogs.

The team sent another box with 12 toys and continued the process. All dogs brought back at most 11 toys.

Dror, who hails from Israel, says that the Hungarian dog knows more Hungarian than me!

The toys were divided into two parts: one half was kept for one month and the other half for two months. After each storage period, the dogs were tested again. Five dogs were able to recall all names of toys after a month. Four dogs could remember all or nearly all of the toys after two months.

Dror says that although we knew these dogs were quick learners, I was amazed at their ability to quickly learn new toys and remember them without having to mix them up.

Dror says gifted word learner dogs are a great animal model to study how humans acquire language. Dror believes they are a better model than the marine mammals and apes that previously played that role, since pets dogs are also raised in the home as human children.

Research is more effective when an animal model of language acquisition can be used. This helps to understand which language-learning skills are unique to humans and which ones aren't. Dror says that we want to understand the differences between humans.

Journal reference: Royal Society Open Science DOI: 10.1098/rsos.210976

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