Genius Dogs: Isaac Newtons of the Doggy World

Otis Adams

Every dog mom and dad believes their pup is 'such a smart doggy - yes he is', but the genius of some dogs is undeniable. As we humans have our Paul Morphy and Isaac Newton, dogs have Rico and Chaser.

Rico is a border collie from Germany known for is ability for fast-mapping. This is an exercise to test how quickly dogs can figure out the names of things that are new to them. Rico can do the trick as well as a three-year-old human. Rico is in a small club with the likes of Vicky Nina in Brazil and Bailey in America - both Yorkshire terriers.

These super canine skills seem to appear most commonly in border collies. A handful have a grade point average on par with Rico's when it comes to fast mapping. One of them also tops the charts when it comes to memory. Chaser, a border collie living in the United States, has been called the smartest dog in the world because she can remember the names of 1,022 her toys.

Just defining what intelligence means when it comes to dogs is a tricky thing and open to wide interpretation, which leads to numerous varieties of those 'smartest dog breed' lists. Even so, breeds like border collies, Australian cattle dogs, poodles, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers are frequently mentioned on such lists.

Claudia Fugazza of Lorand University in Budapest was more interested in individual dogs. This ethologist studies dog cognition and says "there has never been a decent sample size" for studying the subject of dog genius. Her aim was to change this.

Through her university, Fugazza and the team she was a part of went on the search for doggy talent. Dog owners around the world played fetch with their dogs everyday and repeated the name of the toy they used. This continued for three months. One of the researchers would check in once a month to observe as the puppies and adult dogs were tested. The dogs who passed the test were given another toy with a new name.

Only a border collie named Oliva managed to impress as she learned 21 names over two months. She never got to finish the three-month experiment and show everyone what she could do because she died from health problems she'd had since she was a pup.

Dog breed might be a minor factor in the end. While a border collie came out on top, 18 failed the tests early on.

A handful of talented people have changed the course of history...why are there so few Mozarts and Einsteins? Is it genetics, the environment, or practice? We think dogs can be used as a model to study the origin of talent. (Claudia Fugazza)

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Author of Lavatory Reader #1: This Road, now available on Amazon. New Twitter @OtisAdamsWrites. Otis Adams is an award-winning writer with three books under his belt and two dozen awards boxed up in his closet for his screenplays and short fiction. He writes regularly on Medium.com and can be contacted at pithbooks@gmail.com.

Columbia, MO
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