Some Dogs Are Better At Learning And Understanding Words Than Others

If you have a pet in your home, you likely talk to them on a regular basis. It’s not that we necessarily expect our pets to answer us, we just want a listening ear.

As it turns out, some pets may recognize what we are saying more than most of us realize.

In the Journal Scientific Reports, a study was published after a group of dogs was tested to determine if they could understand the names associated with certain toys.

They wanted to see if a lot of training could influence the dogs and help them learn more if the training took place at a young age. They also wanted to see if dogs could be taught to associate words with objects, even if they were older.

During the test, the dogs were split into two groups, one group being middle-aged dogs and the other being puppies. Each group was introduced to the same training program in which a toy was used while the owner repeated the name of the toy.

After the dog learned the name of the toy, they introduced a second toy and so on for three months.


In total, 40 dogs were used for this study, and all of them were tested at home. They also were tested in Budapest, at the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University. The study itself was known as the Family Dog Project.


One of the researchers taking the lead in the project, Dr. Claudia Fugazza had the following to say, according to IFL Science: “At first, we hypothesized that developmental factors, such as neuroplasticity during puppyhood, would have played a role in making puppies learn object names at a faster rate, compared to adult dogs. Thus, we recruited for this study puppies and adults.”

She went on to say that they were surprised that most dogs didn’t show evidence of learning, regardless of their age. Seven of the adult dogs did show evidence that they had a large capacity for learning, as they were able to learn up to 37 toy names during the study.


One of those seven dogs that showed exceptional learning, Olivia, was never involved with learning object names prior to the study. The rest of them had a basic vocabulary of objects prior to the study taking place. In only two months, Olivia was able to learn 21 words, helping her to catch up with the rest. This helped researchers to see that prior experience with this type of training was not necessary if the dogs were exceptionally talented.


You might find it interesting that all of the exceptional learners were border collies, although there were 18 border collies that also did not show the same talent. In other words, the breed didn’t really make a difference.

The head of the Department of Ethology and co-author of the study, Dr. Adam Miklósi said: “We are intrigued by this extreme inter-individual variation in a cognitive trait (the capacity to learn object labels) and we think that this is just the beginning of a journey that will lead us to better understand the roots of talent.”

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