New Study Searches for the Secret Connection Between ‘Gifted’ Dogs

by Britt
Photo credit: Kristina Holovach /

As dog parents, we all want to believe that our dog is the smartest, most incredible, most amazing dog out there. Right? But there is a select group of dogs whose talent and intelligence stand out above the rest. What makes these dogs so bright? That’s what a new study hopes to understand…

Known as “Gifted Word Learner” (GWL) Dogs, these dogs display an impressive vocabulary by learning the names of dozens of their toys, with some learning as many as 125 toys by name!

Interested in better understanding this phenomenon and what makes these dogs so naturally gifted, researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary set out to identify any commonalities between these pups. Their recent study, published in Scientific Reports on December 14, included 41 GWL dogs from nine countries: the US, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary.

They put out a call for ‘gifted’ dogs, asking owners to complete and submit a self-assessment following their detailed instructions and send the results in a video. Dogs that passed that phase were then given an online vocabulary assessment test to better assess their language skills. The owners were also given a questionnaire to provide a better understanding of each dog’s life experience.

“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,” explained Dr. Andrea Sommese, study co-author.

Researchers discovered some interesting connections between the GWL dogs using all this information.

The first conclusion they drew was that while breed wasn’t a definitive factor, with their group including dogs of all sizes, one well-known herding breed certainly stole the show – the Border Collie. Of the 41 participating dogs, 23 were border collies, and four more were border collie mixes. This doesn’t come as a surprise to breed enthusiasts, who have long recognized the intelligence and versatility of these dogs.

Owners of multiple dogs shared that their other pets didn’t demonstrate the same language abilities as their GWL dog despite being raised and trained in the same way. This further showed that these intelligent dogs are outliers, not simply a product of excellent training.

Even more impressive is how these dogs continued learning and expanding their vocabulary throughout the study.

“In our previous studies, we have shown that GWL dogs learn new object names very fast,” stated Shany Dror, lead researcher. “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 owners reported that their dogs had already acquired a vocabulary of over 100 toy names.”

Do you believe that you have a gifted dog? The study into the connection between GWL dogs continues as part of the Genius Dog Challenge. If your dog knows the names of 10 or more toys or objects, the research team would love to hear from you. The complete application form and instructions are available on the Genius Dog Challenge website.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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