November 11, 2020, saw a research project kick-off that could turn the heads of even the most science-phobic of people. After a two-year search, researchers from Hungary have rounded up who they deem to be the planet’s smartest dogs so that they can be pitted against one another in the Genius Dog Challenge. The challenges are being live-streamed for your viewing pleasure, as six clever pooches compete to become top dog in a scientific pursuit to better understand the origin of language.
In their search for genius canines, the researchers put a call out on social media for dogs who could recognize the names of their different toys. “We found six such dogs scattered all over the world,” said project scientist Dr Claudia Fugazza, of Eötvös Loránd University, in an interview with The Guardian. Remarking on the fact that all of the dogs, discovered in Spain, Norway, Hungary, the Netherlands and Brazil, are border collies, she said “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].”
The researchers say the ability to learn names for inanimate objects is a rare one in dogs, which made tracking down a team of worthy opponents a difficult task. Following commands is a more common skill among canines, but even dogs purposely trained by the researchers to recognize objects by their names weren’t up to the task.
The researchers want to get a better understanding as to whether or not the dogs actually understand the words like a language and ascertain why some dogs are capable of this skill while others don’t have a clue. To investigate the "language" skills of their clever contenders, the Genius Dog Challenge is split into two rounds. In round one, the contestants have one week to learn the names of six novel toys. In round two, they will have to do the same but double up on toys, learning the names for 12 items.
You can see the first two contestants put to the challenge in the above video. The rounds will be shown live on Facebook and YouTube from November 11 until December 16. The contestants include Rico, Whisky, Max, Squall, Gaia, and Nalani, so should you wish to set up a sweepstake those are your contenders.
Fugazza and colleagues hope the challenge will have wider reaching implications than simply a month of entertaining challenges, with hopes that it will encourage owners of exceptionally smart dogs to come forward. If you think your pooch could be a contender, they are searching for dogs who know the names of more than 10 objects or toys. To apply, you’ll need to include a video following their guidelines showcasing your pet's linguistic skills, and if selected they’ll be put forward for behavioral investigations and possibly neuroimaging to find out what’s going on in your pup’s brain when you say, “Beer. Get me a beer.”