Do dogs understand language?

03 June 2007

Question

Do dogs understand language?

Answer

There is a very famous dog, a Border Collie, called Rico who has been written about in the journal "Science" as having a registered vocabulary of 240 words. Rico's owners demonstrated that he has the equivalent learning abilities of a human toddler by showing context-specific learning and attribution. By putting Rico in one room and a number of his toys in another room, and then asking him to retrieve one by name, he would get the right toy. He was then told to go and fetch an item he had never seen or heard of before. This object was placed amongst a collection of toys he knew in the other room. By a process of elimination he was able to pick this object as it was the single item for which he did not know the name. He correctly inferred, therefore, that this must be the item to which his owner was referring. Humans learn by the same deductive process.

So yes, dogs can have a vocabulary and therefore can understand some language and probably use a similar region of their brain to that which we use for language.

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