Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chaser and 1,022 Toys: The Dog Knows What Each One's Called

"World's Smartest Dog Knows More Than 1,000 Words" (December 23, 2010)

(Mark Olencki, via, used w/o permission.)
"A border collie named Chaser has learned over 1,000 words -- more than any other animal"

"If you thought Rover or Sparky was smart, think again: Chaser just took him to school.

"A border collie named Chaser has learned the names of 1,022 individual items -- more than any other animal, even the legendary Alex the parrot. But it's all in a day's work for these researchers.

"Psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., wanted to test if there was a limit to the amount of words a border collie could learn, so they taught Chaser the names of hundreds of toys, one by one, slowly and patiently, for three years.

" 'We put in a lot of work on it,' Pilley said in a conversation with While border collies are an especially smart breed, he said, the research doesn't allow them to conclusively call it smarter than, say, pit bulls or dachshunds.

" 'We can't say anything definitive about this, but there is agreement among breeders,' he said, citing decades of breeding for herding that makes the dogs particularly attuned to learning words. 'The hypothesis is that they do have a special propensity to language, they listen to the farmer.'

"Chaser the border collie's mountain of toys -- all 1,022 of them -- and a group of Wofford College students.

"Pilley stressed that the training technique more than anything resulted in the incredible skills of the dog...."

"...She learned common nouns that represented categories, such as “ball,” and she learned to infer the names of objects by their association with other objects.

Rico the border collie, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, was previously top dog — he had a vocabulary of about 200 words. Chaser’s feats are chronicled in the journal Behavioural Processes.

There's a 10-minute video embedded in the article, showing part of Chaser's training:

"Chaser responding to the combination of verb noun phrases071410.mpg
pilleyjw, YouTube (July 12, 2010)
video, 10:28

"Chaser responding to commands to match three verbs with three nouns, thereby demonstrating combinatorial understanding and the independent meaning of verbs and nouns in the verb noun phrases."

No question about it: Chaser is a smart dog. Still, like the researcher said, it was "the training technique more than anything resulted in the incredible skills of the dog."

That, and working with a breed of dog that's been developed to be particularly interested in what one of us says. In the Lemming's opinion.

Still: the experiment had impressive results. Particularly since what Chaser did was apparently more than a simple 'one sound/one response' trick. The trainers used simple sentences: a noun and a verb. And Chaser apparently understood what was said.

Dog owners won't, the Lemming imagines, be all that impressed - although that is a large vocabulary. Folks who work around dogs, or most animals, learn that they're smart. Although many aren't quite as frantically eager to please a person as dogs are.

And that's another topic.

Vaguely-related posts:More about Chaser:


Brigid said...

And then there are the not so smart dogs. ^_^ But Chaser is definitely one of the bright ones.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Yes, indeed - with a 'bright' expression on his face, to boot.

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