How smart is your dog? Border Collies are the stars of new canine research

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All companion dogs are good at understanding their human owners, but a rare few dogs have an uncanny ability to learn and remember the names of objects, according to a new study.

Hungarian researchers tested the ability of six border collies to remember the names of new toys. The four-part experiment involved teach dogs up to 12 new words per week, then test their ability to remember toys for up to two months.

The researchers didn’t have a specific race in mind when they started recruiting for the study, which was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Tuesday. The goal was to find dogs who were “good at learning words” or who had already shown an ability to learn the meaning of many objects.

“The dogs that we found after two years of searching for dogs of any breed that had learned the names of their toys turned out to be Border Collies,” study first author Shany Dror said in a report. -mail. Dror is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ethology (Animal Behavioral Science) at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and Director of the Genie Dog Challenge. “However, in a previous study we also tried teaching other Border Collies toy names and they didn’t show this ability. So it turns out that even among Border Collies this ability is very rare.

The border collies selected for the study were three females and three males, with an average age of 3.6 years, who already knew the names of at least 26 toys.

The process of teaching dogs words for new toys, Dror explained, was not a formal type of training, but based on how owners typically play with their pets. The researchers noted that owners spoke to their dogs in the same tone and vocabulary that parents use when speaking with their toddlers.

“The owner shows the toy to the dog and says his name – for example, ‘look, it’s the elephant’ – then starts giving the toy to the dog or throws it for the dog to retrieve, still repeating the name. toy a few times, for example, “go find the elephant,” Dror said.

For the experiments, the owners received toys that the dogs had never seen. In the first experiment, which tested the dogs’ abilities to learn the names of six toys in a week, the toys were scattered with a number of other original toys, and the dogs were asked to fetch, by their name, each of the toys they had. to familiarise with.

In the second experiment, the dogs had a week to learn the names of 12 new toys.

In two other experiments, the dogs’ memories were tested one month and then two months later.

In the first experiment, almost all dogs remembered the names of all the toys. In the second experiment, two dogs retrieved all 12 of their new toys, while four of the dogs retrieved 11. Overall, the dogs retrieved the correct toy in over 86 percent of the trials.

One month later, the dogs recovered the correct toys in 61.1% of the trials.

At two months, they got the right toy back in just over 57% of trials.

“The most surprising result was that after two months, during which they had not seen these new toys, the dogs could still remember their names,” Dror said.

After the study was completed, the researchers found individuals from other breeds who were also adept at learning new words, including a German Shepherd, Pekingese, Mini Australian Shepherd, and a few mixed-breed dogs.

What about dogs that don’t have the ability to learn a lot of words?

“What we tested is a very specific skill: the ability to learn object names,” Dror said.

“All dogs, however, are good at understanding their humans,” she said. “They do it by being able to read even the very subtle movements that we do and by learning in what context we are doing what. They listen to all of our activities and can learn a lot by observing us.

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