Clever dogs: Is your canine as smart as Rico? Portsmouth university dog scientist on the hunt for gifted pooches

A DOG cognition scientist from the city’s university is on a worldwide hunt for a very rare breed of dog – ones who can identify 20 or more objects by name.

By Emily Jessica Turner
Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 10:01 am

Dr Juliane Kaminski, director of the Dog Cognition Centre at the department of psychology, University of Portsmouth, is on a quest to find the world’s most gifted dogs.

She is leading the citizen science project along with Dr Juliane Bräuer, head of the Dog Studies Lab at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

The project, Finding Rico, is named after an exceptionally gifted border collie called Rico.

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Rico, the original smartest dog. Picture: Susanne Baus

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Rico’s owners had reported their dog’s exceptional abilities to animal psychologist Dr Kaminski and together with Julia Fischer and Josep Call, they were the first scientists to publish research on gifted dogs.

Dr Kaminski devised a test which asked Rico to fetch objects which showed he understood 200 words and could recall words for weeks after being taught them.

Rico also responded correctly to the word for a new object after hearing it just once. This suggested he had the canine equivalent of the ability to fast map, a mechanism widely used by babies and children to learn language.

Dr Kaminski said: ‘Rico was clearly one of the most exceptionally gifted dogs, but we know there are others out there who are as gifted.

‘We hope this citizen science project will inspire people to work with us to test their dogs’ intelligence and to establish how common such superb skill really is.’

Dr Bräuer added: ‘Finding these dogs will help us understand what it is that makes these dogs so exceptionally skilled and whether they truly are the ‘Einsteins’ of the dog world.’

The two researchers, long-time collaborators in the field of dog cognition, have made a video in eight different languages in the hope of reaching dog owners far and wide.

Those who think their dog is or might be as clever as Rico and who can identify at least 20 objects, are urged to get in touch with the researchers via email at [email protected]

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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