Chaser the Border Collie dog who learnt 1000+ words

chaser the border coolie dog

We know that dogs are intelligent animals. But did you have any idea they could be this smart that they could learn nouns, verbs, and prepositions?

Meet Chaser, a white and black Border collie dog who holds the record of “the largest tested memory of an animal except humans”. Chaser knew more than 1000 words, and she was the only canine with the largest known vocabulary in the world.

On 28th June 2004, an 8-week-old Chaser came home to her owner and trainer, Professor John W. Pilley in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Known as an American behavioral psychologist, Professor John was an emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Wofford College. He was best known for his research work with Chaser, and his precious work is treasured in his book: ‘Chaser – Unlocking the Genius of the dog who knows a thousand words’.

Professor John’s research into canine cognition and language learning, and ultimately, training Chaser was his most notable achievement as Chaser could recognize 1022 words or items.

From the tiny age of eight weeks old to a 14-year old, the super smart dog – Chaser was trained and taught by Professor John, who was curious about the learning and cognitive skills of canines.

On his 76th birthday, Pilley’s wife, Sally had given Chaser to him, and the two had been together ever since. Naming her was quite interesting. One day while playing with the little pup out in the front yard, a red Jeep came racing past them. In a jiffy, she went flying after the car, chasing it like a rat. So this is when the professor and his wife decided to name her Chaser.

Chaser, an eight weeks old pup began working with her owner, Professor John W. Pilley, at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and they were together until the professor’s death in June 2018.

After John’s death, Chaser lived with John’s wife and daughters. A year later, on July 23, 2019, Chaser peacefully passed away at the age of 15 years.

During those 14 years with Chaser, Professor Pilley spent most of his time training Chaser in a formal canine research project, and within 3 years, Chaser could identify and retrieve 1,022 toys by name.

In his research work, the professor has mentioned that in addition to proper nouns and common nouns, Chaser also learnt verbs, adverbs, and prepositions.

Within three years of constant training, Chaser also learned to understand even three-part comments, like “Take ball to Frisbee”, “Keep teddy in box” and much more.

The reason that Chaser could identify and retrieve more than 1,000 toys by name was a years-long research effort initiated by her owner and trainer Professor John Pilley. He began this research with Chaser on June 28, 2004 when she was just 2-months old.

As Chaser’s vocabulary grew over time, the renowned professor had recorded her milestones in his research work:

  • 50 words at 5 months of age
  • 200 words at 7.5 months of age
  • 700 words at 1.5 years of age
  • And finally, 1,000+ at 3 years of age

It was at the age of four months, Chaser began to understand that there is a name for every object. At this point of time, she was able to associate a new object with a new name in just one trial. Rehearsals and repetitions helped to log the names into her long term memory.

Soon, Chaser learnt to identify common nouns such as ball, tree, teddy, and house, as well as adverbs such as first, here, now, and slowly; and also some verbs and prepositional objects.

Based on these results, Chaser and Professor John continued her training sessions to build her skills to understand sentences with multiple elements of grammar, and to learn and imitate new behaviors.

So now that you know Chaser – the super smart Border collie, instead of asking your friends, “Are you smarter than a 5th grader,” we should start asking, “Are you smarter than a border collie ?”

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