Article image

Gifted dogs can learn the names of up to 100 toys

Many dog owners believe their pets are unique, and recent scientific findings have revealed that some dogs are indeed exceptional. These gifted dogs possess an ability to learn the names of a vast array of toys. 

This talent was not well understood previously due to the scarcity of such dogs in studies, which often included only one or two examples. However, a new research paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports and conducted by the Family Dog Project at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest, has cast new light on these special dogs.

The research team previously found that a minority of dogs had the capability to learn names of objects, predominantly toys. To explore this phenomenon further, they embarked on a five-year worldwide hunt for these gifted word learner (GWL) dogs. 

This search included a 2020 social media campaign, during which the researchers shared their work with GWL dogs, aiming to discover more of them.

Citizen science

“This was a citizen science project,” said team leader Claudia Fugazza, an expert in Ethology at ELTE:. Owners who believed their dogs knew toy names were instructed on testing them and asked to send test videos. The team then conducted online evaluations with these owners, followed by a questionnaire. 

“In the questionnaire, we asked the owners about their dog’s life experience, their own experience in raising and training dogs, and about the process by which the dog came to learn the names of his/her toys,” explained co-author Andrea Sommese, a PhD student in Ethology at the same institution.

Gifted dogs

In total, the study identified 41 gifted word learner dogs across nine countries, including the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary. 

Although previous studies mainly focused on Border collies, this breed now constituted only 56 percent of the dogs in the present study. The research also documented toy name learning in non-working breeds such as Pomeranians, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Corgi, Poodle, and mixed breeds.

“Surprisingly, most owners reported that they did not intentionally teach their dogs toy names, but rather that the dogs just seemed to spontaneously pick up the toy names during unstructured play sessions,” said lead author Shany Dror, another ethologist at ELTE. 

The researchers also found no correlation between the dog owners’ training experience and their dogs’ ability to recognize toy names.

Rare ability 

“In our previous studies we have shown that GWL dogs learn new object names very fast,” Dror added. The average number of toys known by the dogs was 29, but over half the owners later reported their dogs knew over 100 toy names.

This rare ability to learn object names is the first documented case of such talent in a non-human species. The larger sample size helped in identifying common characteristics among gifted word learner dogs, pushing forward the understanding of this rare ability.

This research is part of the ongoing Genius Dog Challenge, aimed at studying the unique talent of gifted word learner dogs. Dog owners with potentially gifted word learner dogs are invited to contact the researchers via the Genius Dog Challenge website.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day