522503_444758852266622_1008405316_nWhen human children are learning how to name objects, children show “shape bias.” For instance, if a child is taught to call a small, red ball a made up word such as “dax,” a human will be most likely to call other spherical objects a dax. A recent study funded by the University of Lincoln, UK set out to determine if dogs learn words with the same bias. In their study, the dog Gabe put more emphasis on size and then texture when assigning meaning to new words. So if Gabe is taught to fetch a 12”, carpeted, U-shape on the command “dax,” Gabe first starts thinking that “dax” means 12” shape. If Gabe is later presented with a different set of targets such as a small, vinyl U, a carpeted L, and a 12” vinyl T, Gabe will retrieve the T. Their findings suggest that the canine mind places greater emphasis on size and texture, while the human mind places greater emphasis on shape when learning words.

The study: van der Zee E, Zulch H, Mills D (2012) Word Generalization by a Dog (Canis familiaris): Is Shape Important? PLoS ONE 7(11): e49382. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.004938

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