Rico the border collie has been trained to know 200 words
A border collie who knows the names of all 200 of his toys is impressive. Rico proved it by fetching the toy his testers named about ninety per cent of the time in a 2004 study published online in Science magazine. Granted, Rico’s vocabulary does not include words like “anthropomorphism” (assigning human characteristics to animals). It is made up of simple words like “ball,” “bunny,” “bear,” “Mr. Green,” or “Seahorse.” Watch him select a toy ring on command in this video. You’ll notice he comprehends even when the word is sandwiched between other words. “Where’s the ring?” “Get the ring.”
Can you train your dog to learn 200 words, or is Rico the Albert Einstein of dogs?
Hint: Start training your dog to learn words as a puppy. Researchers do believe that Rico’s mastery of words indicates a capability most dogs have, albeit undeveloped. Even if your dog only knows a few words, such as “ball,” “food”, “go out,” “potty,” “come,” “sit” and “stay,” it may not mean he is not as smart as Rico. It may just mean that you haven’t been training your pooch since puppy hood to know the name for the bunny, as opposed to the bear. When ten month old Rico was ill and housebound, his owners began training him to recognize specific names of toys and objects. He was trained to fetch certain items on command, and more were added gradually.
Can you train your dog to do “fast mapping” like Rico?
Researchers thought it especially impressive that they could throw a strange new toy into the mix (an Ernie doll, for instance) and tell Rico to fetch Ernie, a word he had never heard before. Seven out of ten times Rico picked Ernie out of the pile, having linked the word he had never heard with the toy he had never seen before. In cognitive psychology that is called “fast mapping,” an ability only humans were thought to possess. It’s the process in which a new concept is learned based on one exposure to the information. Fast mapping is thought to be one way toddlers acquire language rapidly. To find out if Rico really learned the new toy name and wasn’t just guessing, he was tested again a month later, and successfully retrieved Ernie about half the time.
Can you train your dog to be bilingual?
Well, sort of. Rico is German and he will fetch toys with either German or English names, but maybe not both. He probably will not find the “Kaninchen” toy if you call it the “bunny.” For a dog to be truly bilingual, it would have to understand names in two languages for the same toy.
Does Rico have a better vocabulary than an ape or parrot?
“The collie’s vocabulary is on par with other trained animals like apes, dolphins, sea lions, and parrots,” according to Kate Rudor, writing for the Genome News Network.