Dogs Understand Human Language

Monday, June 14th, 2004

I may need a border collie. From Dogs Understand Human Language:

A clever border collie that can fetch at least 200 objects by name may be living proof that dogs truly understand human language, German scientists reported on Thursday.
“(Rico) lives as a pet with his owners and was reported by them to know the labels of more than 200 items, mostly children’s toys and balls, which he correctly retrieved upon request,” Julia Fischer of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and colleagues wrote.

His owners say “Rico, wo ist der (where is the) Banane (banana),” or “BigMac” or “Panda,” and the dog searches, out of sight of the owner, until he finds the object.
“Rico’s ‘vocabulary size’ is comparable to that of language-trained apes, dolphins, sea lions and parrots.”

When they put a new object into a room filled with old objects, Rico was able to fetch it 7 out of 10 times, evidently figuring out that the new word must refer to the new object.

Four weeks later, he apparently remembered this new word about half the time. “This retrieval rate is comparable to the performance of 3-year-old toddlers,” they wrote.
Psychologist Paul Bloom of Yale University in Connecticut, an expert in how people learn the meaning of words, said not even chimpanzees have demonstrated such “fast-mapping” abilities.

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