If you think that your dog knows what you’re saying when you tell him to fetch his favorite stuffy, you may be right. A study by researchers with the Family Dog Project in conjunction with the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest examined how dogs identify their toys.
The study, published in the Journal of Animal Cognition, tested dogs’ ability to recognize objects based on their names in dark and light conditions. They tested 14 dogs; 10 were “typical” family dogs, and four dogs identified as gifted word learners (GWL). The GWL dogs had participated in a previous study and proved they know the names of more than 20 dog toys.
The researchers used the same set of unfamiliar toys of different shapes, sizes, colors and materials for all the dogs. After placing four toys in the room, the dog’s owner would play with their pet using a fifth toy. Occasionally, the owner would put the new toy among the others and reward the dog with praise, play or food when it retrieved it.
After several minutes of training, the dogs would take a break. Then, they asked to fetch the fifth, specific toy in different lighting conditions.
The researchers found that dogs can tell the difference between toys using different senses depending on the lighting. The dogs took longer to find the correct toy in a darkened room. They relied on sniffing more while searching in the dark than in the light when they seemed to rely on vision.
Ultimately, the study determined dogs notice various features of toys, from sight to smell, even when they only have brief interactions with them.
Other studies the project has been involved with have revealed that dogs can recognize their owner by voice alone, using some of the same voice properties as humans and that dogs can even differentiate between two languages.
So, the next time you talk to your pup and feel he’s not only listening but actually understanding you, you might be right!