Border Collie Intelligence (Rico)

One thing Keiko, my cross, has taught me is that Border Collies are very, very imtelligent. (So, if having your dog outwit you at times will not crushh your self-esteem, by all means, get a 🙂 , the subject of this post, proves it.

The owners of (a born December 1994) claimed that he knew over 200 distinct words. Rico was later studied by animal psychologist , who wrote in Science magazine that these claims were justified: Rico retrieved an average of 37 (out of 40) items correctly. Rico could also remember items' names for four weeks after his last exposure.

This absolutely astounds me. I know humans who would not do as well as Rico.

Kaminski eliminated the possibility Rico could be picking up clues from his owner by randomly assigning items Rico knew to one of 20 of 10 items. The owner waited with the dog in a separate room, and the items were placed in the groups. Then, the owner was instructed to request that the dog bring two randomly chosen items (one after the other) from the adjacent room.

Rico's vocabulary is considered comparable to language-trained apes, dolphins, sea lions, and parrots.

Rico even responded new words, apparently using somewhing akin to fast mapping mechanism used by humans. Subject to the same protocols as above, Rico was asked to retrieve the new object, using a word that he had never heard before. Apparently using a process of elimination (a hightly developed trait), Rico correctly retrieve the object with the new name.

Questions remain, such as:

  • Could Rico understand a word other than by fetching it?
  • Could Rico be told not to fetch a specific object?
  • Can Rico learn a word for any object he could not fetch (car? house?)?
  • Is Rico responding to the sound of the human voice or to the words?

are have been bred to respond in clever ways to a combination of human vocal commands and whistles, which makes them excellent sheep . Whether Rico's clever responses equate to any kind of language comprehension or even whether they demonstrate any language skill (apart from distinguishing the difference among sounds) is at best unclear.


This tells us he can do simple logic…It's like he's saying to himself, ‘I know the others have names, so this new word cannot refer to my familiar toys. It must refer to this new thing.' Or it goes the other way around, and he's thinking, ‘I've never seen this one before, so this must be it.' He's actually thinking. – Julia Fischer


  • Science, Vol 304, Issue 5677 (11 June 2004), pp. 1605-1606 Pdf * Science, Vol 304, Issue 5677 (11 June 2004), pp. 1682-1683 Pdf
  • Genome News Network article and photo * CBC article * Washington Post article and photo

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