Dogs Identify Objects by Size Not Shape
Dogs relate words to objects in a completely different way as compared to humans, finds a new study.
Children are known to associate words with new objects based on their shape. They continue to identify new objects the same way even as adults. This tendency is called as 'shape bias.'
It was perceived that the dogs' ability to fetch an object like a ball or a toy based on instructions was due to their similar learning techniques to humans. But a new study by researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, has revealed that the learning process of dogs is completely different from humans.
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The research team, led by Dr Emile van der Zee from Lincoln University, has found that dogs associate new words with the size of the object and its texture, rather than its shape.
Van der Zee and her colleagues trained a five-year-old Border Collie, Gable, to learn new object words. After a brief training period, researchers worked out challenges to test the extent of Gable's word comprehension.
They placed ten different objects out of sight from Gable and gave him instructions to fetch a particular object. Experts noticed that the dog had a great ability to distinguish between familiar objects. When they introduced new words to fetch new objects, they noticed Gable began to associate the words with the size of the object.
After getting familiarized with the name and object, Gable learned to relate the word with the texture of the object. The shape of the object did not have any influence when Gable picked them up.
Based on their study, the researchers concluded that the mental lexicon (mental dictionary where the words and the information related to the words like meaning and pronunciation are stored) seems to be different in dogs when compared with humans, in terms of 'word knowledge development and word reference quality.'
"Though your dog understands the command 'fetch the ball,' he may think of the object in a very different way than you do when he hears it," Dr Van der Zee told Daily Mail.
"Where shape matters for us, size or texture matters more for your dog," she said.
The research team hopes the study will help in understanding the basics of language in humans and the main differences with other species.
The findings of the study, "Word Generalization by a Dog (Canis familiaris): Is Shape Important?" are published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.