Some talented dogs can learn new words after hearing them only four times,according to a new study.

Most dogs do not learn words unless they are extensively trained — but a teamof researchers has found that some outstanding pets have “exceptionalabilities.”

Researchers from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest observed two “gifted”dogs: A Border Collie named Whisky, and a Yorkshire terrier called Vicky Nina,and tested their ability to learn a new word after hearing it only four times

“We wanted to know under which conditions the gifted dogs may learn novelwords. To test this, we exposed Whisky and Vicky Nina to the new words in twodifferent conditions,” Claudia Fugazza, first author of the study and aresearcher at the department of ethology, said.

One scenario was an exclusion-based task, and another was within a social,playful context with their owners.

“Importantly, in both conditions the dogs heard the name of the new toy onlyfour times,” Fugazza said.

Presented with seven known toys and one new toy, the dogs were able to selectthe new toy when presented with a new name. Researchers say this proves thatdogs can choose by exclusion — when confronted with a new word, they selectedand retrieved the only toy which did not have a known name.

However, when researchers presented two newly named toys and asked them toretrieve one, they failed.

Vicky Nina among her toys. While preliminary evidence seems to show that mostdogs do not learn words (i.e. names of objects), unless eventually veryextensively trained, a few individuals have shown some exceptional abilities.

The research team also noticed that both dogs were able to identify andretrieve newly named toys after hearing the name only four times from theirowners during play.

“Such rapid learning seems to be similar to the way human children acquiretheir vocabulary around 2-3 years of age,” said Adam Miklósi, head of theDepartment of Ethology and co-author of the study.But not all dogs learn wordsthis way.

In a test of 20 other dogs, researchers found that none of them learned thenew toy names. It was concluded that, without formal training, the capacity tolearn words rapidly is very rare and is only present in a few gifted dogs.

Researchers also found that both Whisky and Vicky Nina forgot the new toynames quickly, and in some tests, within little over an hour of first learningthem.

The research was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Meanwhile, in spite of their “human-like” auditory capabilities forinterpreting speech sounds, dogs do not hear the subtle differences betweenwords in the way that humans do, a team of researchers from the sameuniversity reported last year.

Dogs are renowned for their auditory capacity and their ability to hear wordsand sounds well and they are able to differentiate speech sounds. But expertssaid it seems they don’t pay attention to all of the speech sounds.

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