A border collie named Chaser has learned over 1,000 words -- more than any other animal

It has been reported that a six-year old female border collie named Chaser has set a world’s record for words learned by an animal by recognizing the names of over 1,022 individual toys. This eclipses the record held by Rico, a border collie from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. The previous “top dog” had a vocabulary of only about 200 words. For the last three years, psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina patiently devoted their time to teaching Chaser the names of 1,022 toys, one at a time. In an interview with Fox News, Pilley stated the obviousness of their scientific labor of love. “We put in a lot of work on it.” Commenting on potential differences in intelligence that may exist between various breeds, he said “while border collies are an especially smart breed, the research doesn’t allow them to conclusively call it smarter than, say, pit bulls or dachshunds. The hypothesis is that they do have a special propensity to language, [because they inherently know] to listen to the farmer.”

Pilley attributed their success to the unique training techniques that they employed.  ”In the first experiment where we talk about the learning of proper nouns, the procedure we used is one where she was taught in a way that she couldn’t fail”, Pilley said. “We would place the object right on the floor, somewhere the dog couldn’t miss.” This “burn-in” process would continue for a period of several months. Pilley and Reid would then work with new toys, one at a time, as they built up Chaser’s vocabulary. “Most people, when they try to teach a dog, put too many objects on the ground. That’s called simultaneous training.” Our method, Pilley explained, was a successive technique.” The psychologists tested Chaser’s vocabulary on a regular basis.  They put random groups of 20 toys in another room and trained her to fetch them by name. In 838 separate tests spanning over three years, Chaser never got less than 18 out of 20 right!

In a YouTube video, Chaser learned common nouns that represented catagories, such as “ball”, and she learned to infer the names of object by their association with other objects. Pilley also gave Chaser some impressively complex commands — combining three verbs with three nouns. She understands the verbs “nose”, “get”, and “paw”. She is rewarded by playing with “blue”, a little ball she chases across the room. Chaser’s feats are chronicled in Behavioral Processes. Popular Science and Fox News also contributed to this report. To watch the video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=KbI13nbDRRI#t=0s

Categories: Environment