Is your dog a genius? ‘Gifted’ pups remember hundreds of toy names

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Every dog owner believes their pet is special, but a new study highlights certain “gifted” pups as exceptional. Scientists in Hungary have discovered that a select group of dogs worldwide possess a remarkable talent for learning the names of their toys. Called Gifted Word Learner dogs, these adept animals are capable of recalling and associating hundreds of different words with their respective playthings.

Scientists have studied this ability before, but those projects typically focused on just one or two dogs. Researchers from the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University sought to find more dogs with this rare talent to deepen their understanding. However, the scarcity of this phenomenon made their search challenging.

In response, the team started their own social media campaign in 2020, inviting owners to contact them if they believed their dog was a Gifted Word Learner.

“This was a citizen science project” explains Dr. Claudia Fugazza, the project’s team leader, in a media release. “When a dog owner told us they thought their dog knew toy names, we gave them instructions on how to self-test their dog and asked them to send us the video of the test”

Researchers held online meetings with the owners and their pets to test each dog’s vocabulary, and, if they demonstrated knowledge of words, the owner would fill out 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” adds study co-author Dr. Andrea Sommese.

dog words
Border Collie Whisky stands with her toys, including one with a brand new name as part of an intelligence test. (Credit: Claudia Fugazza)

After a five-year search, scientists identified 41 dogs from nine different countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Norway.

A significant 56 percent of the dogs participating in the study were Border Collies, but the group also included non-working dog breeds. The study featured two Pomeranians, one Pekingese, one Shih Tzu, one Corgi, one Poodle, and several mixed breeds.

Interestingly, the study revealed no correlation between an owner’s experience in handling and training dogs and the animal’s ability to identify the correct toy by name. Most owners reported that they did not deliberately teach their dogs the names of toys. Instead, the pets spontaneously learned the names during informal play sessions.

Furthermore, the dogs continued to learn new toy names during and after the study, indicating their ability to expand their vocabulary over time.

“In our previous studies we have shown that GWL dogs learn new object names very fast,” says the project’s lead researcher Shany Dror. “So, it is not surprising that when we conducted the test with the dogs, the average number of toys known by the dogs was 29, but when we published the results, more than 50% of the owners reported that their dogs had already acquired a vocabulary of over 100 toy names.”

“Because GWL dogs are so rare, until now there were only anecdotes about their background” explains Prof. Adam Miklósi, Head of the Ethology Department at ELTE. “The rare ability to learn object names is the first documented case of talent in a non-human species. The relatively large sample of dogs documented in this study, helps us to identify the common characteristics that are shared among these dogs, and brings us one step closer in the quest of understanding their unique ability.”

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is part of the Genius Dog Challenge research project which aims to understand the unique talent of Gifted Word Learner dogs. Owners who believe their dogs know multiple toy names are encouraged to get in contact via the research project’s website.

You might also be interested in: 

South West News Service writer Imogen Howse contributed to this report.

YouTube video


  1. Dog people are insufferable enough as it is – don’t give them a reason to think their dog is more special or a “genius pup” FFS.

Comments are closed.