What goes through your dog's mind when you tell him to find his favorite toy?
Hungarian researchers say Fido relies on a mental image based on sensory features. Dogs call to mind the way that toy looks, feels and smells.
The finding - from the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest - was recently published online in the journal Animal Cognition.
"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, an expert on animal behavior. "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."
The researchers had previously discovered that only a small percentage of pooches - dubbed "gifted word learners" - can learn the names of objects.
For this study, the researchers trained three of those gifted word learners and 10 typical family dogs to fetch a toy associated with a reward.
Then, they placed that toy with four other toys and watched what happened when dogs searched for it with lights both on and off.
All of the dogs were able to find the reward-linked toy even in the dark, but it took them longer to do so.
A second experiment was conducted only with the gifted word learners to learn what comes to their minds when they hear the name of their toys.
The dogs found the named toy in the light and the dark. The researchers said that suggests the dogs recalled its sensory features and used that mental image to identify the toy, even in the dark.
The findings show that when dogs play with a toy, even briefly, they make note of its features using multiple senses.
The study is part of the Genius Dog Challenge research project.
Here's where you can find the Genius Dog Challenge.
SOURCE: Eötvös Loránd University, news release, June 15, 2022