“Gifted” dogs may share this trait. Does your dog have any?
There is a small handful gifted “awesome” dogs around the world – and researchers want to understand what makes their brains tick.
Dogs who are good at learning words are incredibly rare in the canine world. These skilled puppies are able to learn the names of objects – like toys – fairly quickly and remember those names over a period of two months.
Canine researchers from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest investigated the possible link between animal personality and cognitive abilities. Their research suggests that a specific personality trait may be common to these puppies, providing valuable insight into the unique nature of these dogs’ minds.
How they made the discovery — Border Collies, for reasons still unknown, are the dogs most commonly identified as gifted word learners.
“We limited our survey to Border Collies because most gifted learners belong to this breed,” Claudia Fugazzalead researcher of the study from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, recounts Reverse.
Researchers sent owners of gifted Border Collies the dog personality quiz, which asks dog owners to answer questions about their pet’s personality. Next, the scientists compared the responses for the gifted Border Collies to the results for the typical Hungarian and Australian border collies – not gifted. This analysis allowed researchers to compare the personalities of gifted and non-gifted dogs.
The answer they found, however, may have given more questions than answers.
What they found — According to the study, the only personality trait that differed significantly between gifted and typical dogs was playfulness. In other words: gifted dogs were more playful than other Border Collies. The results match the researchers’ hypothesis that gifted dogs show higher levels of playfulness than other dogs.
“This study finds a relationship between extreme levels of playfulness and giftedness in word learning,” says Fugazza.
Figuring out what exactly these results mean is a more difficult problem for researchers to solve. First, researchers can only show that there is an association between playfulness as a personality trait and the skills of gifted dogs, but they can not prove that playfulness causes dogs to have higher cognitive abilities. Fugazza says it is “difficult” to establish causation, but does not rule out that future research may establish this link.
But that doesn’t mean researchers can’t speculate as to why gifted pooches tend to be more outgoing. One possible explanation: the environment in which dogs learn words may lend itself to more play.
“Rapid learning of toy names has been shown to occur in playful social contexts with the owner,” the researchers write.
Playful dogs also make eye contact with humans more quickly, which can make communication easier, helping dogs learn the names of toys faster.
Another possible explanation may lie in the breed of dog. As working dogs, Border Collies tend to be more playful than non-working dogs, which further improves their ability to learn words. Although the personality trait is not entirely down to breed, gifted Border Collies scored higher in playfulness than their typical Border Collie colleagues.
“It could be a genetic trait or this extreme playfulness could be environmentally enhanced by the frequent playful interactions with the owner,” Fugazza concludes.
A video preview of the new study.
Why is it important – What motivated researchers to investigate possible associations between dog personality and giftedness? Their human owners.
“It has been suggested that there is a positive association between the Playfulness trait and problem-solving performance in humans,” the researchers write.
It turns out that previous research shows that humans with exceptional cognitive abilities demonstrated greater “openness to experience” than non-gifted individuals. Openness to experience could include traits like intellectual curiosity, a preference for new experiences, and a “preference for non-traditional values,” according to the article.
Openness to experience is also closely related to playfulness, which the study found has been associated with better job performance and innovative behavior in humans. So it was only fitting to see if researchers could find a similar association in dogs.
Dogs are good research models to study human behavior because they evolved in the same environment as humans. By studying the roots of dog learning, Fugazza says we could also better understand human cognition.
And after – Scientists will conduct ongoing research into gifted dogs as part of their “Genius Dog” challenge. If you think your dog is exceptionally good at naming his toys, you can contact the team via their website.
Fugazza hopes that further research into these rare puppies can reveal “the origin of the giftedness”.