A New Study Says That the More Playful Your Dog Is, the Smarter They Might Be

Pups that love fetch and extra time at the dog park are more likely to be "gifted," researchers found.

Border Collie laying on grass
Photo: Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

Whether your dog loves taking daily trips to the park or simply rolling around on the living room floor with their favorite toy, these playful habits could be a sign of their intelligence. At least, that's what a new study out of Eotvos Lorand University suggests. A research team studying Border collies found that dogs can learn up to 12 new words each week—and remember them for months on end. While performing additional research to better understand why some (but not all!) Border collies could master this unique skill, scientists found that pups that fell into the "gifted" category exhibited one main common trait: they were extra playful.

To come to these findings, the team surveyed 165 owners of Border collies using a dog personality questionnaire, NBC reports. They noted that 21 of the canines were already considered "gifted" (or, capable of learning human language); 114 were chosen at random without prior testing to determine if they could understand new words. "Giftedness refers to an extremely good capacity in the case of a specific skill," said Claudia Fugazza, the study's lead author.

Researchers tested all of the dogs' personalities based on five categories: fearfulness, aggression towards people, activity and excitability, responsiveness, and aggression towards animals. From there, owners tested their dogs' playfulness based on three categories: dogs getting bored quickly when playing, dog having fun playing with toys, and dog fetching objects (like toys and sticks).

When comparing the previously-determined "gifted" dogs and "gifted" pups that were not screened for their learning abilities ahead of the study, playfulness stood out as a common trait—smarter canines, the team found, played more.

They did note that more research is needed, as there was a gray area in the study: Some dogs play more based on the words their owners teach them, while others learn more simply because they are given more chances to play.

If your pet isn't the most playful pup at the dog park, don't fret—it doesn't mean that your four-legged friend lacks intelligence. "Both dogs and wolves are playful when they are puppies, but dogs really evolved to living in the human environment and to responding to social cues," Adam Boyko, a specialist in the genetics of behavior and an associate professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, told NBC. "It's not surprising that the more playful ones exhibit better learning in the domain of learning human words. And it's not surprising that Border collies, who are bred to respond to human cues, show the propensity to learn words more than other breeds."

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