Gifted dogs can learn new words after hearing them FOUR times – equivalent to a two-year-old child

They’re often referred to a man’s best friend, and now a new study has revealed that some dogs can learn new words as quickly as a two-year-old child. 

Researchers analysed the speed at which dogs can learn new words, and found that the most gifted pooches can learn new words after hearing them only four times. 

According to the experts, that’s roughly the same speed as a toddler at around two to three years old. 

However, the researchers say that only very few dogs are this talented at learning words quickly, in the absence of formal training. 

Researchers analysed the speed at which dogs can learn new words, and found that the most gifted pooches, such as Whisky (pictured), can learn new words after hearing them only four times

Researchers analysed the speed at which dogs can learn new words, and found that the most gifted pooches, such as Whisky (pictured), can learn new words after hearing them only four times

HOW DO DOGS LEARN NEW WORDS? 

In the experiment, two gifted dogs, Whisky and Vicky Nina, were exposed to new words in two different conditions – during an exclusion-based task, and in a social playful context with their owners   

In the exclusion-based task, the dog was faced with seven familiar, already named dog toys and one new toy.

The dogs showed that they were able to select the new toy when their owner spoke a new name.

This confirms that dogs can choose by exclusion, in other words excluding all the other toys because they already have a name and selecting the only one left.

However, the most successful way for the dogs to learn a new word was in a social context. 

When owners pronounced the name of the toy while playing with their pooch, the dogs learned its name even after hearing it only four times.

Whisky and Vicky Nina were able to select the toys based on their names when they had learned the names this way.

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While most dogs do not learn words unless they are extensively trained, a few have shown these exceptional abilities despite any formal teaching.

Study author Professor Adam Miklósi, of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, said: ‘Such rapid learning seems to be similar to the way human children acquire their vocabulary around two to three years of age.’

Social media sensation Whisky, a Border Collie from Norway, and Vicky Nina, a Yorkshire terrier from Brazil, participated in the new study.

In the experiment, the two ‘gifted’ dogs showed their ability to learn a new word after hearing it only four times.

Lead study author Dr Claudia Fugazza, of the same university, said: ‘We wanted to know under which conditions the gifted dogs may learn novel words.

‘To test this, we exposed Whisky and Vicky Nina to the new words in two different conditions, during an exclusion-based task and in a social playful context with their owners.

‘Importantly, in both conditions the dogs heard the name of the new toy only four times’.

While it is natural to think that dogs, like human children, would learn words mostly in a social context, previous studies tested the ability of talented dogs to learn object names during specific tasks.

In one task, the dog was faced with seven familiar, already named dog toys and one new toy.

The dogs showed that they were able to select the new toy when their owner spoke a new name.

This confirms that dogs can choose by exclusion, in other words excluding all the other toys because they already have a name and selecting the only one left.

Social media sensation Whisky, a Border Collie from Norway, and Vicky Nina (pictured), a Yorkshire terrier from Brazil, participated in the new study

Social media sensation Whisky, a Border Collie from Norway, and Vicky Nina (pictured), a Yorkshire terrier from Brazil, participated in the new study

Dr Fugazza said: ‘But this was not the way they would learn the name of the toy.

‘In fact, when tested on their ability to recognise the toy by its name, as this was confronted with another equally novel name, the dogs failed.’

The most successful way for a dog to learn the name of a new toy seemed to be in a social context.

When owners pronounced the name of the toy while playing with their pooch, the dogs learned its name even after hearing it only four times.

The study suggests that gifted dogs can learn new words at the same speed as a two to three-year-old (stock image)

The study suggests that gifted dogs can learn new words at the same speed as a two to three-year-old (stock image)

Whisky and Vicky Nina were able to select the toys based on their names when they had learned the names this way.

To test whether most dogs would learn words this way, another 20 dogs were tested in the same condition, but none of them showed any evidence of learning the toy names.

This confirms that only very few and gifted dogs are able to learn words quickly, in the absence of formal training.

Dr Fugazza added: ‘After such few exposures, however, Whisky’s and Vicky Nina’s memory of the learned words decayed quite fast.

‘While in the first test, conducted a couple of minutes after hearing the toy names, the dogs were successful, they did not succeed in most of the tests conducted after ten minutes and one hour.’

To find out more about the number of words that the gifted dogs can learn in a short timeframe, the researchers have also recently launched the Genius Dog Challenge a project that went viral on social media.

Vicky Nina passed away in the meantime and could not take part in the Genius Dog Challenge.

Whisky is participating in it, together with other five talented dogs that the scientists found all over the world in the past two years of search.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

DOGS FIRST BECAME DOMESTICATED ABOUT 20,000 to 40,000 YEARS AGO

A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia, around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Dr Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor in evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually.

‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps feeding off refuse created by the humans.

‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.’

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