“Genius Dog Challenge” Sheds Light On How Our Dogs Learn Language

Is your dog a genius? Of course, they are!

Most pet owners like to think their pup is especially smart and talented (and if they’re not, then they’re a loveable goofball) — but a new research project from a team of researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, has finally set the bar for canine credibility with its Genius Dog Challenge!

The project, conducted with test subjects from across the globe, not only sheds light on different aspects of canine intelligence, but also the complex and varied factors that make some pups especially gifted at word recognition, memory, and association.

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Previous research, the team noted, “reported only a handful of cases of individual dogs (most of which were Border collies) being able to learn the name of multiple objects.”

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So, the team set out to create a rigorous experiment that filled this knowledge gap. Their results were published in Nature, under the title “Word learning dogs (Canis familiaris) provide an animal model for studying exceptional performance.”

Photo: Max Pixel

After recruiting for word-knowledgeable dogs via social media, the team had a group of pups to test. In one room, the dog and their owner sat until directed remotely by the team to retrieve a toy from another room. Then, the pup would dutifully retrieve the requested toy to test the limits of their memory and identification powers.

The findings of this study, the authors argue, suggest that “dogs with knowledge of object names could be a powerful model for studying mental mechanisms related to word acquisition in a non-human species.”

Impressively, the dogs in the study “were not only able to learn up to 12 new object names in one week, a learning rate which is comparable to early word acquisition in infants at the beginning of the vocabulary spurt but most of them also maintained a long-term memory of the object names for at least two months.”

Photo: Max Pixel

Some studied dogs (all Border Collies!) were able to not only associate a given word with a specific toy, but also categories of toys, which challenges the traditional way we view non-human language acquisition. More studies are needed, but the team’s work is helping us understand just what makes humans unique as language learners, as well as the strengths that other animals such as canines have.

Learn more about the study and see the “Genius Dog Challenge” in action over at the team’s YouTube channel or Facebook page!

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