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If you’re curious about what goes through your dog’s mind when he thinks about his favorite toy, a recent study discovered that they rely on mental images based on sensory features, such as how it looks, smells, and feels.
“If we can understand which senses dogs use while searching for a toy, this may reveal how they think about it,” said co-lead study author Shany Dror, from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary. “When dogs use olfaction [sense of smell] or sight while searching for a toy, this indicates that they know how that toy smells or looks like.”
This finding from the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest was recently published online in the journal Animal Cognition.
According to the study, only a small number of dogs, called “gifted word learners,” can learn the names of objects. Three of the gifted word learners and ten normal household dogs were trained to fetch a toy associated with a reward in this study. Then they put the item in a box with four other toys and watched what happened when the dogs looked for it with the lights on and off. Even in the dark, all of the dogs were able to locate the reward-linked toy, but it took them longer.
Then, a second experiment was conducted with only the gifted word learners to see what comes to mind when they hear their toys’ names. The dogs discovered the toy with both lights off and on. According to the study, it shows the dogs remembered its sensory aspects and used that mental image to recognize the toy even in the dark.
Researchers revealed that when dogs play with a toy, they use their many senses to take note of the toy’s features.
This research initiative is part of a project called the Genius Dog Challenge.