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Shany Dror, Ádám Miklósi, Andrea Sommese and Claudia Fugazza (2023)
Scientific Reports ‎


Dogs that have a vocabulary of object labels (Gifted Word Learner dogs – GWL dogs) have great potential as a comparative model for studying a variety of cognitive mechanisms. However, only a handful of studies, with a small sample size of 1 or 2 dogs, have examined this phenomenon. GWL dogs appear to share many of the same distinctive characteristics, but due to their rarity, it is not clear if these similarities are only anecdotal or indeed reflect characteristics that are similar in these rare individuals. Here we present the first study conducted on a relatively large sample of 41 GWL dogs that were recruited and tested using a citizen science model. After testing the dogs’ receptive vocabulary of toy names, we asked the owners to complete a questionnaire about their and their dog’s life experiences. Our findings highlight several characteristics that are shared among most GWL dogs, such as their learning speed, their large vocabulary, and that they learned the names of the toys spontaneously, without the explicit intent of their owners. Our findings validate previous anecdotal evidence on common characteristics of GWL dogs and supply additional support to the hypothesis that these dogs represent a unique group of dogs.

Shany Dror and Andrea Sommese, Ádám Miklósi, ‎Andrea Temesi, Claudia Fugazza (2022)
Animal Cognition


Little research has been conducted on dogs’ (Canis familiaris) ability to integrate information obtained through different sensory modalities during object discrimination and recognition tasks. Such a process would indicate the formation of multisensory mental representations. In Experiment 1, we tested the ability of 3 Gifted Word Learner (GWL) dogs that can rapidly learn the verbal labels of toys, and 10 Typical (T) dogs to discriminate an object recently associated with a reward, from distractor objects, under light and dark conditions. While the success rate did not differ between the two groups and conditions, a detailed behavioral analysis showed that all dogs searched for longer and sniffed more in the dark. This suggests that, when possible, dogs relied mostly on vision, and switched to using only other sensory modalities, including olfaction, when searching in the dark. In Experiment 2, we investigated whether, for the GWL dogs (N = 4), hearing the object verbal labels activates a memory of a multisensory mental representation. We did so by testing their ability to recognize objects based on their names under dark and light conditions. Their success rate did not differ between the two conditions, whereas the dogs’ search behavior did, indicating a flexible use of different sensory modalities. Little is known about the cognitive mechanisms involved in the ability of GWL dogs to recognize labeled objects. These findings supply the first evidence that for GWL dogs, verbal labels evoke a multisensory mental representation of the objects.

Shany Dror, Ádám Miklósi, Andrea Sommese, ‎Andrea Temesi, Claudia Fugazza (2021)
R. Soc. Open Sci. 8: 210976‎


Dogs with a vocabulary of object names are rare and are considered uniquely gifted. In a few cases, these Gifted Word Learner (GWL) dogs have presented cognitive skills that are functionally similar to those of human infants. However, the acquisition rate of new object names and the ability of GWL dogs to form long-term memories of those is unknown. In this study, we examine the ability of six GWL dogs to acquire the names of new objects in a short period and to retain those in their long-term memory without post-acquisition exposures. In Experiments 1 and 2, the dogs were tested on their ability to learn, during social interactions with their owners, the names of 6 and 12 new toys respectively, in one week. In Experiments 3 and 4, the dogs’ memory of these objects was tested after one and two months. GWL dogs typically learned the names of the new objects and remembered those. We suggest that dogs with knowledge of object names could be a powerful model for studying mental mechanisms related to word acquisition in a non-human species.

Claudia Fugazza, Shany Dror, Andrea Sommese, ‎Andrea Temesi, Ádám Miklósi (2020)
Scientific Reports. 11:14070


Exceptional performance is present in various human activities but its origins are debated and challenging to study. We report evidence of exceptional performance and qualitative variation in learning object-names in dogs. 34 naïve family dogs and 6 knowledgeable individuals that knew multiple toy names, found in 2 years of search around the Globe, were exposed to 3 months of training to learn two novel toy-names and were tested in two-way choice tests. Only 1 naïve and all 6 knowledgeable dogs passed the tests. Additionally, only these dogs learned at least 10 new toy names over the 3 months, showing qualitative variation in this capacity. Although previous object-name knowledge could provide an explanation for the superior performance of the knowledgeable dogs, their rarity and the absence of previous training of this skill point to exceptional giftedness in these individuals, providing the basis to establish dogs as a model-species for studying talent.

Shany Dror, Franziska Harich, Orawan Duangphakdee, Tommaso Savin, Ákos Pogány, John Roberts, Jessica Geheran, Anna C. Treydte (2020)
Mammalian Biology. 100:355-363


In many parts of South and Southeast Asia, rural farmers living at the borders of protected areas frequently encounter Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) raiding their crops and threatening farmers lives and livelihoods. Traditional deterrent methods often have limited success as elephants become habituated or alternate their movement and behavior. While African bees (Apis mellifera scutellate) have been shown to effectively and sustainably deter African elephants (Loxodonta africana) little is known about their Asian counterparts. We conducted two experiments to estimate the effectiveness of bees as an Asian elephant deterrent method. We analyzed the behavioral reaction of seven captive Asian elephants when confronted with a fence of A. mellifera hives blocking their way to a desired source of food. In addition, we explored the defensive reaction of five A. cerana hives and six A. mellifera hives to an artificial disturbance during both day and night time. The elephants crossed the beehive fence in 51% of the cases, the probability of crossing increased over time and the number of exposures had a significant effect on an elephant’s crossing probability, indicating that elephants became habituated to the presence of the beehive fence. In the bee experiment, only one out of five A. cerana hives and one out of six A. mellifera hives reacted to the disturbance during the daytime, while during nighttime, none of them reacted defensively after being disturbed. We, therefore, conclude that neither A. mellifera nor A. cerana bees are likely to be effective in deterring wild Asian elephants from entering crop fields.