'Genius' dogs can recall up to 100 different toy names, study finds

Six gifted border collies learn the names of up to 12 toys a week and memorise them for up to two months as part of challenge

With a bit of training, most dogs are able to grasp basic commands such as “sit”, “paw”, and “walkies”, but a new study has found that some dogs have a much stronger grasp of language.

Scientists examined the ‎ability of six collies from across the world, identified through the Genius Dog Challenge, to learn the names of several toys, and found they were able to remember more than 100 names.

To participate in the challenge, the six dogs – Max from Hungary, Gaia from Brazil, Nalani from the Netherlands, Squall from the US, Whisky from Norway and Rico from Spain – all had to prove they could recall the names of 28 toys.

The dogs were monitored over a period of two years for the study, and were able to learn up to 12 new names each week, and remember them for a period of two months on average.

The tests were carried out by the pet’s owners during Covid-19 lockdowns, with video cameras set up in homes to allow researchers to monitor the dogs’ behaviour as well as the owners’.

"We know that dogs can easily learn words that are linked to actions, such as 'sit' or 'down',” said lead researcher Shany Dror, from the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary. "But very few dogs can learn names of objects. For more than two years, we searched around the world for dogs that had learnt the names of their toys, and we managed to find six."

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, likened the dogs’ ability to learn and recall words to that of an infant human at the beginning of their journey in understanding and forming vocabulary at around 18 months of age.

Border collies are known to be among the most intelligent dog breeds, and were traditionally used to herd sheep, making them extra responsive to the behaviour of their owners. However, the Genius Dog Project was able to identify other breeds, including German shepherds, Australian shepherds and mixed breed dogs, that were able to memorise many toy names.

While this study is now finished, the research team is looking to recruit more exceptional dogs for further experiments. Owners who believe their dogs are able to recall several toy names can register them via the challenge website.

Updated: October 6th 2021, 1:34 PM