Who's a clever dog? Canine 'genius challenge' to be livestreamed

Six border collies from around world to take part in series of live experiments

The search for the world’s smartest dog kicks into gear on Wednesday, as contenders compete in a livestreamed event to be crowned top of the canine class.

Researchers in Hungary have spent more than two years searching for dogs who could recognise the names of their different toys, advertising for owners to come forward on social media.

Now the canines they have discovered are set to take part in a series of livestreamed experiments , called the “Genius Dog Challenge”.

Dr Claudia Fugazza, of Eötvös Loránd University, one of the scientists behind the project, said they have been hunting for a rare talent. “We found six such dogs scattered all over the world,” she said, adding the dogs – all of which were border collies – were discovered in Spain, Norway, Hungary, Florida, the Netherlands and Brazil.

“Of course, we cannot claim this is an ability that only belongs to border collies but indeed it does seem to be more frequent in [them],” she said.

Fugazza added that while there had been a handful of reports of dogs being able to learn labels for objects, each involved just one animal – probably because the skill is so rare.

Among previous studies was a report in the journal Science in 2004 of a border collie called Rico who knew the names of more than 200 items, while the Victorian MP Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, apparently claimed his dog, Van was literate.

Fugazza said that learning names of items appears to be a very different task for dogs than learning commands, with almost all dogs able to do the latter – at least to some degree. “In two years of our project we could not train dogs to recognise the name of objects,” said Fugazza. “If it was only a matter of associating a sound with an action that would have been possible.”

While it is not yet clear if the dogs understand the words in the way a human would, the team are keen to unpick the differences between the dogs able to learn words and those who can’t.

The new contest revolves around two challenges. In the first the dogs will be tasked with learning the names of six new toys in the space of the week, while in the second they will be tasked with learning the names of 12 new toys in a week.

The competitors, which include dogs named Max, Gaia and Whisky, will be tested in six live broadcasts on Facebook and YouTube at 7pm CET each week, from 11 November until 16 December , with each broadcast showing two of the dogs being challenged.

Fugazza said she hoped the experiments would not only shed light on how quickly such dogs could learn new words, but might encourage more owners of such dogs to come forward so that the team can carry out further investigations, such as neuroimaging studies.

Whether the winner can truly be said to be smartest canine in the world is a matter of debate – not least as the experiments will focus on just one ability. But Fugazza said she believed it was fair to describe the six contenders as talented, or gifted.

“We can say there are many good musicians among humans, but Mozart was somehow different,” she said. “This is something along these lines.”


Nicola Davis Science correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Who’s a clever dog? Scientists study secrets of canine cognition
Dogs can figure out some things that even chimps can’t. Our science correspondent puts her puppy retriever to the test

Nicola Davis

17, Jan, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
‘Genius dogs’ can learn names of more than 100 toys, study finds
Six canines, all border collies, have proved some possess a remarkable grasp of human language

Linda Geddes

05, Oct, 2021 @10:01 PM

Article image
Stranded dog saved from rising tide after rescuers attach sausage to drone
Team in Hampshire ties sausage to drone as ‘last resort’ to rescue Millie the jack russell from mudflats

Steven Morris

20, Jan, 2022 @3:02 PM

Article image
Mutts-have: architects create luxury kennels for pet charity auction
Celebrities and designers also turn their hand to producing pooch palaces for event

Oliver Wainwright

14, Apr, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
Crufts organisers blame Brexit for fewer overseas dog entries
Uncertainty over pet visa rules may have kept some European owners away, says Kennel Club

Amy Walker

06, Mar, 2020 @2:35 PM

Article image
Popularity of pug-like dogs 'could be fuelling rise in canine fertility clinics'
Investigation links boom in flat-faced dogs to rise in clinics, some of which advertise banned procedures

Nicola Davis

07, Feb, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Chien film festival: Tilda Swinton’s dogs win canine award at Cannes
Actor starred with springer spaniels Snowbear, Dora and Rosy in The Souvenir Part II

Mark Porter in Cannes

18, Jul, 2021 @2:05 PM

Article image
Saatchi chairman and his wife defend crowdfunding for Instagram-star dog
Couple who live in £1m London house raised more than £5,000 to pay vet bills for Welsh terrier

Alexandra Topping

26, Jan, 2018 @12:22 PM

Article image
Vets ask prospective dog owners to avoid pugs and other flat-faced breeds
British Veterinary Association says brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and bulldogs at risk of severe health problems

Damien Gayle

21, Sep, 2016 @4:52 PM

Article image
Would-be dog owners told to think twice before buying flat-faced breeds
Exclusive: Brachycephalic breeds prone to health issues and may fuel crime, experts say as registrations soar

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

14, May, 2021 @12:31 PM