Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words

CHaserAmazing dog. Amazing and super-friendly author. I got in touch w/Dr. Pilley after reading the book (and his research papers) and he did a Skype conversation with a class I was teaching on dog-human communication. He is one in a million, as is Chaser. He is such a great example of positive training that respects a dog and her abilities… and he is a fantastic teacher as well.
No one is surprised to hear that a border collie is intelligent and learns easily. But Chaser has gone far beyond what any other dog has been documented to learn in terms of human language comprehension. Dr. Pilley set out to teach her as many words as he could — names of objects — after reading the dismissive comments that greeted publications describing the accomplishments of Rico, a border collie in Germany who learned several hundred words. Dr. Pilley analyzed the linguists’ and other academics’ critiques of the training and testing of Rico — and set out to train his dog in a way that addressed all of their objections. And he accomplished his goal. (An interesting chapter in the book describes the resistance he faced when attempting to publish his initial results.) The opposition to admitting that any creature but humans can use language is still deeply entrenched.
But it’s also dead wrong. Chaser truly does understand human language. She learned and retains the names of more than a thousand items. She has demonstrated her ability to categorize them, grouping round bouncy things into the “ball” category and flat flying things into the “Frisbee” category, for example. And, like most dogs, she clearly distinguishes the category of “my toys” from “things in the house that I’d like to chew but am not allowed to chew.”
But Dr. Pilley realized that he had not pushed the boundaries of Chaser’s abilities. So, they tackled grammar next. Chaser understands the concepts of subject, verb, object — and indirect object. As an editor and college instructor, I have to point out that many writers and college students do not reach Chaser’s level of grammatical knowledge.
Toward the end of the book, Dr. Pilley describes his initial attempts to teach Chaser to imitate long, complex strings of behaviors. His description inspired me to try simple imitation games with my dogs, which have been fun and very funny.
The best part about this book though, is its constant message: Keep training fun and rewarding for the dog; make it a game; play to your dog’s strengths and preferences and, most important, make sure she has time do play and engage in her favorite activities. For Chaser, that means regular opportunities to herd sheep at a near

Advertisements

One thought on “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s