Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words
"The most scientifically important dog in over a century." —Brian Hare
Chaser has fascinated dog lovers and scientists alike. Her story reveals the potential for taking out dialogue with dogs well beyond "fetch." When retired psychology professor John Pilley first got his new Border collie puppy, Chaser, he wanted to explore the boundaries of language learning and communication between humans and man's best friend. Exhibiting intelligence previously thought impossible in dogs, Chaser soon learned the names of more than a thousand toys and sentences with multiple elements of grammar. Chaser's accomplishments are revolutionizing the way we think about the intelligence of animals. John and Chaser's inspiring journey demonstrates the power of learning through play and opens our eyes to the boundless potential in the animals we love.
collar, which he hadn’t been wearing because he was so thin. I sat down beside Yasha and his things, covered my face with my hands, and wept. When my tears finally stopped and I looked up, the sky was lowering and threatening to pour with rain. I couldn’t wait any longer. I picked up Yasha and embraced him one last time, then laid him in the grave with his yellow Frisbee, stuffed bunny, and collar. Slowly, I picked up the shovel and began to fill the grave with dirt. I knew friends would tell
privilege of sitting around the campfire with Wayne and the other trainers, breeders, and sheep farmers—and their dogs. In the course of that evening I told them my research had never found any indication that dogs could learn the names of objects. In my lab at Wofford my students and I tested this with Yasha, Grindle, Blue, and Timber by asking them to fetch a particular item from one of a few different objects. The results were never better than pure chance. Speaking to these expert trainers
instantly got to her feet and walked toward the foam Frisbee. “There,” I said, and Chaser stopped still. “Chaser, come by,” I said, and she walked around the Frisbee clockwise. “There,” I said, and she stopped again. “Chaser, way to me,” I said, and she walked around the Frisbee counterclockwise. The children were murmuring with interest and inching forward in their chairs. “There,” I said, and Chaser stopped still again. “Chaser, drop.” She dropped flat on her belly. Some of the kids
air in the car and the girls’ frequent distress and disapproval, I decided to stop smoking. A month later I was drinking beer with some students in a local restaurant when one of them offered me a cigarette. I said I’d quit. The student asked me how long it had been, and I told him I’d gone a month without smoking. He laughed and said that he’d quit smoking several times, once for as long as six months, but he always wound up going back to it. I asked him if he ever got to the point where he
Ben just would not work for Wayne. Despite all his experience, Wayne was flummoxed. The man who sold Ben didn’t know what the problem could be either. Eventually he and Wayne guessed that it might be a question of accent. Several days later, Wayne received a cassette tape on which Ben’s previous owner had recorded the standard Border collie commands in his thick Scottish brogue. Wayne told me, “You know I can’t carry a tune, so I wasn’t sure how I’d do. But I listened to that tape and imitated it