Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet News > Chaser Knows 1022 Words. What Can Your Dog Do?

Chaser Knows 1022 Words. What Can Your Dog Do?


Recently, I was listening to a local radio host interviewing, Dr. John W. Pilley, the owner of Chaser, a Border Collie who has been trained to recognize 1022 words (i.e., nouns).

As a dog lover, I found the interview with Dr Pilley and his work with Chaser to be absolutely fascinating. He described how he worked with Chaser 4-5 hours a day. “He would show her an object, say its name up to 40 times, then hide it and ask her to find it, while repeating the name all the time.” It was in this way that Dr. Pilley was able to teach Chaser 1-2 new words a day. Simply amazing.

What he said next in the interview was the part I found most fascinating. One day while working with her, Dr. Pilley noticed something seemed to “click” with Chaser. She started to understand the association between words (nouns) and objects – in other words, she began to understand that each object had a name. Can you imagine that? From that moment on, he said, Chaser began to view what she was doing as not just a game. She started to pick up new words at a faster pace too.

I highly recommend reading the full story as it appeared in the NY Times. It is quite fascinating.

I was still thinking of this amazing story yesterday when I happened across a fellow blogger’s post talking about her Greyhound, Blueberry. Most of the post was about Blueberry’s couch potato and couch-hogging habits – pretty amusing stuff, but it also got me thinking… all of us have smart dogs in some form or another. They may not be able to learn 1022 nouns like Chaser can, but they do read our body movements and tone of voice to discern what is going on at any moment of the day. Grab your car keys? Your dog likely assumes you are leaving the house for a bit. Heading to the kitchen? Food is likely involved. They also know how to work their way around barriers to get what they want – as Blueberry did. Danger of losing valuable couch space? I’ll just wait for my treat here thanks.

Every day our dogs are learning things that help them to navigate through their environment. My dog Daisy would watch other dogs and mimic their behavior to learn how to be a dog. Jasper has acquired new behaviors just from watching our doggy house guests. Have they learned the words for their toys? I’m not so sure, but I do know they are smart and acquire new behaviors all of the time.

So, I’m curious, how smart is your dog? What things does your dog do (or has done) that shows you how smart he/she really is?

  1. January 24, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    We read a similar article and it really got us wondering how many words/phrases Gus knows. We started Word Whiz Wednesday posts so we can track all the words and phrases he understands. We’ve always thought he was a smarty pants, but we’re a bit biased 😉

    • Mel
      January 25, 2011 at 4:33 AM

      What an awesome idea! I’ll have to check out your posts! I’d like to try that with Jasper and Daisy too. Thanks for sharing!

      • January 26, 2011 at 2:59 AM

        It’s fun…it’s amazing how fast they can pick up new words! We resort to lots of spelling around our house. P-A-R-K, W-A-L-K. It’s a bit ridiculous at times 🙂

  2. Kristine
    January 24, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    Chaser is probably more inclined to learn then other dogs, but I do wonder if we all spent four or five hours every single day, if most dogs could learn just as many words. Obviously, we all don’t have that kind of time, nor do we all necessary even find this level of learning important. I think all dogs are far smarter than we give them credit for. Far smarter than anyone could realise. It’s just finding their motivation to learn what we want them to learn that is hard.

    Shiva is a much better trainer than I am. She has shaped me to offer her all sorts of behaviours, like letting her on the couch, or re-arranging living room furniture so she can lay in the sunbeam…

    That’s a great story about Daisy watching other dogs so carefully. I’ve never witness anything like that before. How cool!

    • Mel
      January 25, 2011 at 4:32 AM

      Thanks for your comments Kristine. I agree. My mother’s Sheltie, Jake, is super smart. He learned sit, down and other commands after two times of trying it. We also taught him to ring a bell attached to the back door when he has to go out to go potty. He learned that after doing it once! I have no doubt that if he had the dedicated time and attention that Chaser did that he would do just as well.

      Motivation is so key isn’t it? My dogs have trained me as well. Daisy won’t go outside until she gets her morning belly rub and Jasper drops his ball over and over again until I play with him. I’m thinking I’m the dog in this house. 🙂

      Daisy had no idea how to be a dog. She was literally like a blank slate, so she would watch other dogs to see what they were doing and then do it too. It seriously is fascinating to watch. It also has a downside. You have to be careful that she isn’t watching bad behavior and copying that. I think we’ve done pretty well!

  3. January 26, 2011 at 4:08 AM

    Holy crap. We practically have a pool party if Kayloo manages to shake the OTHER paw.

    Imagine if we spent 4-5 hours a day educating ourselves…

    • Mel
      January 26, 2011 at 9:13 AM

      LOL! Nice comment Shauna!

  4. January 26, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Ummm. Jersey is really, really good at snuggling under the blankets 😛 She’s not a “people pleaser” kind of dog, so she mostly ignores my commands.

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