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Meet the French dog who is ‘learning to speak’ through a sound mat

Coco the border collie has learned 34 words so far with the help of his language scientist owner

A border collie on a blue background looking at the camera

Coco is a border collie (not the one pictured here) who is learning how to speak with help from his owner Pic: Erik Lam / Shutterstock

A dog in France is learning to ‘speak’ with the help of his owner and a specially-created sound mat, and has mastered the meaning of 34 words so far.

Coco the border collie is nearly 12 months old, and is owned by Meiyun Xu, a doctoral student in language sciences at the university of Bourgogne in Dijon.

Ms Xu is working on her thesis on the language capacity of animals, and is training Coco as part of her work. He uses a mat created by Ms Xu to play the words, which include ‘happy’, ‘want’, ‘play’, and ‘go out’.

She told FranceInfo: “So far, he has learned 34 words, and the most-used are the basic ones, such as go out, eat, play, or cuddles.” Coco has also managed to associate four words in phrase order.

@hello_cocospeaking Coco comprend-il la différence entre "maintenant" et "plus tard" ? Voici deux tests du même jour. Je ferai plus tard un autre test sans parler, seulement avec les boutons. #chien #chienmignon #chiot #bordercollie #foryou #dog #love #pourtoi #bouvier #colley #malinois #puppy #langage #coco #amour #sortir #cute ♬ son original - hello_cocospeaking

The scientist’s work adds to studies that have been done over the past few years, with the current consensus being that dogs can learn up to a thousand words when it comes to their toys, activities, desires or wishes, and emotions.

Ms Xu said: “They already have basic language capacity and know how to express themselves in their own way, but their ‘words’, meaning their actions, their expressions, remain very limited.”

The project is seeking to establish more details on dogs’ aptitude for language via the mat experiment, and in the meantime, Coco’s journey is being followed by more than 40,000 people on TikTok and more than 2,500 on Instagram.

@hello_cocospeaking Il a vraiment compris ce qu'il dit non ? #foryou #pourtoi #love #chien #bordercollie #coco #aime #dog #dogs #jeux #jouer #manger #fatique #ok ♬ son original - hello_cocospeaking
@hello_cocospeaking Il vient de rentrer d'une grande balade, mais réclame encore à jouer dehors Les bordercollies plus énergiques que moi ! #coco #pourtoi #foryou ♬ son original - hello_cocospeaking

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