Super Smart -- Chaser the Border Collie Knows Over a Thousand Words
Many dog lovers wonder whether dogs actually understand our words or simply the body language and tone of voice that accompanies them.
John W. Pilley, a psychologist who lives in Spartanburg, SC decided to put his dog's language skills to the test. He has taught his border collie Chaser 1,022 words, the largest vocabulary of any known dog. Dr Piley describes his experiments with Chaser in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes (see abstract after the jump).
The New York Times article on Chaser points out that border collies are bred for their ability to pay close attention to the shepherd. "Watch a collie work with a sheepherder [sic] and you will come away amazed how small a gesture the person can do to communicate with his dog," said Alexandra Horowitz, a dog behavior expert at Barnard College and author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.
Chaser's words skills may have some bearing on how children acquire language, although that is a matter for scientific debate. In any event, Dr. Pilley's goal is to develop methods that will help increase communication between people and dogs. Chaser is scheduled to star in a PBS Nova episode on animal intelligence airing February 9.
From the Behavioural Processes Abstract:
Four experiments investigated the ability of a border collie (Chaser) to acquire receptive language skills. Experiment 1 demonstrated that Chaser learned and retained, over a 3-year period of intensive training, the proper-noun names of 1022 objects. Experiment 2 presented random pair-wise combinations of three commands and three names, and demonstrated that she understood the separate meanings of proper-noun names and commands. Chaser understood that names refer to objects, independent of the behavior directed toward those objects. Experiment 3 demonstrated Chaser's ability to learn three common nouns - words that represent categories. Chaser demonstrated one-to-many (common noun) and many-to-one (multiple-name) name-object mappings. Experiment 4 demonstrated Chaser's ability to learn words by inferential reasoning by exclusion - inferring the name of an object based on its novelty among familiar objects that already had names. Together, these studies indicate that Chaser acquired referential understanding of nouns, an ability normally attributed to children, which included: (a) awareness that words may refer to objects, (b) awareness of verbal cues that map words upon the object referent, and (c) awareness that names may refer to unique objects or categories of objects, independent of the behaviors directed toward those objects.
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Posted by Molly & Jessie at January 18, 2011 9:29 AM