Rare “gifted” dogs are more playful

A new study, just published in Knowledge of animals reveals that the rare dogs that are gifted in object learning verbal labels—the names of their toys—are more playful than typical dogs.

Researchers from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, recently discovered that only a few dogs in the world display the unique ability to learn names of multiple objects – the names of their toys. These gifted dogs can learn names very quickly and remember those they have learned for more than two months. The researchers called these dogs Gifted Word Learners.

Family Dog Project researchers investigated whether Gifted Word Learner dogs differ in personality traits from typical dogs (i.e., dogs that do not exhibit the rare ability to quickly learn multiple object names).

In humans, problem-solving ability is related to some personality traits, and it appears that more playful individuals may show better problem-solving capacity.

The researchers asked the owners of 21 gifted dogs from around the world to complete the dog’s personality questionnaire.

“This is a validated questionnaire that reveals the personality traits of dogs and has already been successfully used in several published studies,” explains Borbala Turcsanco-author of the study.

The data obtained on the personality traits of the gifted word learners were then compared with data obtained with the same questionnaire on a matched sample of 144 typical dogs from two different countries, Austria and Hungary.

“We limited our investigation to Border Collies, as most of the gifted word learners belong to this breed,” explains dr. Claudia Fugazzalead researcher of the study.

“However, it is important to note that the majority of Border Collies do not exhibit this talent,” he points out dr. Andrea Somersco-author of the study.

“And also that there are some gifted word learners who do not belong to this breed,” he adds Shani Dror.

The only difference the researchers found between gifted and typical border collies was that gifted dogs were rated by their owners as even more playful than typical on both sides. It should be noted that working dogs are more playful than dogs of non-working breeds. Border collies are a breed selected for working purposes. So typical border collies are already very playful, and research reveals that gifted dogs are even more playful.

Adam Miklosico-author and head of the department of ethology concludes: “This study shows that there is a relationship between extremely high levels of playfulness and giftedness in learning verbal object labels in dogs.

However, it is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that playfulness is what makes this talent emerge. We do not rule it out, but it may also be that the extreme playfulness in gifted individuals is driven or perceived by the owners as a result of frequent playful interactions with their dogs, with named toys.

The ability to learn object names is very rare and dogs with this capacity are important for research. By studying these dogs, we can not only understand dogs better, but also understand ourselves better. The researchers encourage dog owners who believe their dogs know several toy names to contact them using the form at Genius Dog Challenge website.

reference: Fugazza C, Turcsan B, Sommese A, Dror S, Temesi A, Miklósi A. Comparison of personality traits of gifted word learners and typical border collies. Anim Cogn. Published online 5 August 2022. doi:10.1007/s10071-022-01657-x

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