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Chaser Knows 1022 Words. What Can Your Dog Do?

January 24, 2011 8 comments

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?

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