In 2020, Genius Dog Challenge gathered a group of six exceptional dogs who could learn the names of over 28 toys. Some even knew over 100 toy names before joining the competition. Through live videos, researchers tested how quickly dogs could remember the names of new toys. At first, each dog learned the name of six new toys in one week. Then, they learned 12 new toys in a single week! After months passed, the dogs still remembered the majority of the toy names.
Even though this challenge is over, researchers continue to observe these behaviors in dogs. They believe that these six dogs are some of many with special talents.
How Well Did These Dogs Learn New Toys?
Researchers spent a long time searching for dogs with these talents. They eventually gathered a group of six Border Collies: Whisky, Nalani, Squall, Max, Gaia, and Rico. All the dogs could pick out a specific toy on command. While most dogs have no problem learning tricks and commands, it’s difficult for dogs to associate toys with names.
After some initial testing, researchers discovered that the dogs could learn the names of some toys after only hearing them four times. So, they wanted to look into it more and see if the dogs had any long-term memory of the toy names. First, they taught them the names of six new toys within a week. When that was successful, they did 12 new toys the next week.
The six dog parents tested their dogs with the 12 toys on a live stream. All the dogs remembered 10 to 12 of the toys, and if they missed one, they got it right on the second try.
“The owner shows the toy to the dog and says its name — for example, ‘look, this is the elephant’—and then starts to give the toy to the dog or throws it for the dog to fetch, always by repeating the name of the toy a few times, for example, ‘go find the elephant,'” said Shany Dror, the first author of the study.
Even after a month, the dogs still correctly found the toys 61.1% of the time. After two months, they found them 57% of the time.
Can Only Border Collies Do This?
While all six dogs in the challenge were Border Collies, researchers claim that it’s only a coincidence. Border Collies are known as some of the smartest dog breeds due to their eagerness to work and please their humans. Yet, this study concluded that any dog can have this skill. Since the study, they’ve seen a German Shepherd, a Pekingese, an Australian Shepherd, and some mixed breeds exhibit the same skills.
“Dogs are good models for studying human behavior as they evolved and develop in the human environment,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Prof Ádám Miklósi. “With these talented dogs we have a unique opportunity to study how another species understands the human language, and how learning words influences the way we think about the world.”
But this challenge was only the beginning. Researchers believe there is so much to learn about dogs, which can help them understand many species. So, they’re always looking for more dogs to participate, and dogs can apply through their website. All canines are intelligent in their own ways, but it’s clear that these six Border Collies have some truly special skills.