The saying, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ has gone out of the window after a new study has found canines can rapidly learn new words through play.
Language skills are rare in animals, but there are a few species, such as orangutan, elephant, dolphin, and now dogs, that are breaking vocabulary barriers.
Dr Claudia Fugazza of Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, an author of the new study, says certain dogs can learn and recognize over 1,000 objects’ names.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Fugazza and her team revealed how they tested two dogs whose owners reported they were good at picking up names. One of the pooches was an energetic four-year old border collie named Whisky, and the other a frisky nine-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Vicky Nina.
After confirming that both dogs were indeed able to select known toys upon request, the team carried out two experimental tasks.
In the first task, the dogs were presented with a new object among seven familiar toys and instructed by their owners to fetch one of the items by name. In the second task, both Whisky and Vicky Nina played with a novel toy while the owner reiterated the toy’s name.
The tasks were then repeated with two novel toys for each dog. In each, the name of the new toy was uttered just four times.
The team found that Whisky, and to a lesser extent Vicky Nina, generally picked the novel toy among familiar items when its name was said – in spite of the toy’s name being new to the dogs.
It’s hoped that the study will be useful in other research dedicated to exploring whether training would enable the average dog to learn words or whether the skill is an inherent trait.
“All dog lovers will agree: Our canine friends are indeed pretty smart,” says David Barritt of Network for Animals (NFA). ” Our team has come across many brilliantly brained dogs and we are constantly in awe of their remarkable intelligence and acute understanding of the world.”