- 🐕 Some super-intelligent dogs called “Gifted World Learner” (GWL) dogs can retrieve a toy out of hundreds just by hearing the toy’s name.
- 🔬 Hungarian study finds 41 dogs worldwide with these exceptional toy-name learning abilities.
- 🧩 Research reveals this unique talent is not breed-specific and involves innate quick learning of new toy names.
All dog owners know their furry friends are special, but some dogs are truly extraordinary. A fraction of dogs from certain breeds have a talent for learning the names of hundreds of toys. This is not some clever trick you can train any dog to do. It’s a very rare cognitive ability, one that scientists have just recently explored in detail.
In a new study, researchers in Hungary shed new light on what exactly makes these pups the Einsteins among canines.
The Quest for Gifted Word Learner Dogs
The Family Dog Project at ELTE Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest embarked on an ambitious journey to understand these uniquely talented canines, called “Gifted Word Learner” (GWL) dogs. Their quest spanned five years and crossed international borders.
Leveraging a social media campaign in 2020, the researchers were able to identify 41 dogs from nine countries with this rare ability. These dogs were then further assessed under controlled conditions, revealing an average knowledge of 29 toy names, with over 50% of GWL dogs even surpassing 100.
Take Max, a five-year-old Border Collie from Hungary. He’s not just smart; he’s a prodigy, knowing over 200 toy names. For instance, when Max’s owner says “Snail”, the clever pooch will immediately run to his pile of toys and retrieve the right plushy.
Similar tests have been carried out by other research groups, usually using only border collies and focusing only on a handful of individuals. In 2004, a dog called Rico was found to know the names of 200 different objects, and in 2011 Chaser learned 1,022 unique objects.
“This was a citizen science project,” explains lead author Dr. Claudia Fugazza. “When a dog owner told us they thought their dog knew toy names, we gave them instructions on how to self-test their dog and asked them to send us the video of the test.”
Most GWL dogs (56%) belonged to the Border Collie breed, widely known for their intelligence. However, the study also found non-working breeds, like Pomeranians and Poodles, displaying this talent.
Interestingly, most owners reported they hadn’t intentionally trained their dogs to learn these names; the dogs seemed to naturally learn them during play. Remarkably, some GWL dogs could learn a new toy name in under 30 minutes. Previously, a 2021 study from the same Hungarian researchers found a relationship between retrieving a named toy and frequent head tilts upon the dog hearing its name.
“Because GWL dogs are so rare, until now there were only anecdotes about their background,” explains Prof. Adam Miklósi, Head of the Ethology Department at ELTE and co-author of the new study.
“The rare ability to learn object names is the first documented case of talent in a non-human species. The relatively large sample of dogs documented in this study, helps us to identify the common characteristics that are shared among these dogs, and brings us one step closer in the quest of understanding their unique ability.”
The findings appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.
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