Since March 2020, Gaia is part of an international research project organised by ethologists at Eötvös Loránd University, in Budapest, about word-leaning dogs (dogs that can learn the names of objects).
There is a common belief that dogs are able to understand words or even sentences. However, researches show that this belief is not entirely accurate and that only very few dogs are able to learn objects' names.
In order to study this subject further, the scientists at Eötvös Loránd University started to search for dogs with outstanding word comprehension and word learning skills around the world. Our dog trainer, Carolina Jardim, told us about this and encouraged us to contact them. That was when we found out that Gaia was a "gifted dog".
At this time, we were still living in Brazil, Gaia was about to turn 2 years old and she had approximately 30 toys at home. One of the researchers, Dr Claudia Fugazza, was going to Brazil on March 2020 to present a seminar and visited us to test Gaia in person.
Since then, we officially joined the project - which Gaia loved because she started to get more and more toys - and started contributing to science in a very fun way. Gaia was one of the six dogs that participated in the Genius Dog Challenge, the first scientific experiment presented as a live broadcast.
Today, three years later, Gaia knows the names of more than 180 toys (and counting).
How do we teach her the names of the toys?
One of the questions we get most is how do we teach Gaia the names of toys. And the answer is simple: by playing.
We taught her the first names of toys totally unintentionally. For example, when we were playing with the stuffed rabbit, we kept saying "Get the rabbit", "Drop the rabbit" and "Where's the rabbit?". And so, naturally, she learned.
Here is a video of us showing how we teach Gaia the name of a new toy.
What is different about word-learning dogs?
This is exactly the question the research is trying to answer: they want to find out in what way these special dogs differ from typical dogs living with people. In addition, they believe that studying those "gifted dogs" can also help them understand the mechanisms of human language.
While they do not find the final answer to this question, the scientists continue making various other interesting discoveries, such as "Why do dogs tilt their heads?" and "Can Dogs Learn fast AND remember?". Meanwhile, Gaia and the other word-learning dogs are just playing and having fun.
And, in case you are wondering, not all word-learning dogs are Border Collies. Currently, there are also Labradors, Doodles, Shitzus, Pinschers, mixed-breed dogs and others participating in the research.
How can I join the research?
If you believe your dog is also a word-learning dog and knows the names of more than 10 objects, you can apply by filling up the application form at Genius Dog Challenge's website (don't forget to attach a video).