Scientists in Hungary have learned that though most dogs have trouble learning new words, some talented dogs can learn new words without really being taught. They just have to hear the word four times.
Researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary studied two very smart dogs – a Border Collie called Whisky and a Yorkshire terrier named Vicky Nina.
The scientists discovered that these “genius” dogs could remember the name of a new toy after hearing their owners say the name a few times while they were playing together.
Adam Miklósi, one of the scientists involved in the study, says the way these clever dogs learn seems to be similar to the way children learn words when they’re two or three years old.
Of course, the dogs weren’t learning a whole complicated language like children are.
The experiment involved giving the dogs new toys with names that were unknown to them. To show that they had learned the name of the new toy, the dogs had to go get the correct toy from another room and bring it back.
To find out how the dogs learned new words so quickly, the scientists set up two tests. In each test, the names of the new toys were only spoken four times.
In one test, the dogs simply played with their owners, who gave them the new toy. The owner would say things like “This is a lunchbox.” or “Get the lunchbox.” This process was repeated with a second toy.
After hearing each new toy’s name only four times, the two dogs were able to choose the correct toy when asked.
The other experiment was even trickier. The dogs were sent into another room to get the new toy, which was mixed with seven other toys that they already knew.
To solve this puzzle, they had to understand that the new word had to be the only toy that they didn’t already know the name of. Though the dogs were able to handle the challenge, it didn’t turn out to be a good way to teach the dogs the name of the toy.
The scientists believe only a few very talented dogs have these abilities. Though they tested twenty other “normal” dogs, none of them were able to pass the tests.
That’s not a huge surprise. Though most dogs have excellent hearing, scientists from the same university released a study last year showing that most dogs don’t pay attention to all of the sounds people make when they talk.
And even though Whisky and Vicky Nina “knew” the words for the toys after hearing them four times, they quickly forgot them – usually in 10 minutes to an hour.
That doesn’t mean they’re not able to learn words more permanently. Both dogs already knew the names of dozens of toys.
To learn more about these special dogs, last year the researchers ran a contest called the “Genius Dog Challenge”. During the contest, several dogs, including Whisky, were able to learn – and remember – 12 new words in just one week.