Is Your Dog Linguistically Gifted?

Dog playing with toys and communicating
Is Your Dog Linguistically Gifted?
If your dog knows the names of 10 or more objects or toys, he’s in rare company


Some dogs, like Chaser, the Border Collie who famously knew the name of over 1,000 toys, are able to learn hundreds of vocabulary words. But, according to researchers, this skill is rare.

“We know that dogs can learn commands or cues or sound stimuli or any stimulus for a behaviour, which is basically a process of association,” says Dr. Claudia Fugazza, a researcher of dogs' social cognitive abilities at the Department of Ethology in Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. “But there was [no existing research] about learning the names of objects. So, we started investigating and we found that irrespective of the age when you start training, most dogs do not learn the name of objects. We trained a group of dogs very intensively for three months—we included a group of puppies around three months old and a group of adult dogs—and none of them could learn any words.”

Chaser the Border Collie knew over 1,000 words
Photo Dana Cubbage

There are exceptions, however. As part of their Genius Dog Challenge, the Hungarian researchers spent more than two years searching for dogs that could recognize the names of their different toys, advertising on social media. Ultimately, they located just six dogs, all Border Collies, discovered in Spain, Norway, Hungary, Florida, the Netherlands, and Brazil. In a live-streamed competition that made headlines, the dogs were tasked with learning up to 12 new words in the space of a week, with all six dogs successfully learning between 10 and 12 words.

“Of course, we cannot claim this is an ability that only belongs to Border Collies,” says Fugazza, “but indeed it does seem to be more frequent in [them].”

It is the researchers hope that the challenge will inspire more owners of linguistically gifted dogs to come forward so that they may participate in future studies.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!


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