Ever wondered if pooches can learn new words? Yes, say researchers as they have found that talented dogs may have the ability to grasp new words after hearing them only four times.
While preliminary evidence seems to show that most dogs do not learn words, unless eventually very extensively trained, a few individuals have shown some exceptional abilities, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“We wanted to know under which conditions the gifted dogs may learn novel words,” said researcher Claudia Fugazza from the Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary
For the study, the team involved two gifted dogs, a Border Collie named Whisky and a Yorkshire terrier named Vicky Nina. The team exposed the dogs to the new words in two different conditions.
In the exclusion-based task, the dogs showed that they were able to select the new toy when their owner spoke a new name, confirming that dogs can choose by exclusion — i.e., excluding all the other toys because they already have a name, and selecting the only one that does not.
However, this was not the way they would learn the name of the toy. In fact, when tested on their ability to recognize the toy by its name, as this was confronted with another equally novel name, the dogs failed.
The other condition, the social one, where the dogs played with their owners who pronounced the name of the toy while playing with the dog, proved to be the successful way to learn the name of the toy, even after hearing it only 4 times.
To test whether most dogs would learn words this way, 20 other dogs were tested in the same condition, but none of them showed any evidence of learning the toy names, confirming that the capacity to learn words rapidly in the absence of formal training is very rare and is only present in a few gifted dogs.