How My Dog Learned a Toddler-Level Vocabulary

Patience and play helped Chaser learn 1K words: John Pilley

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 5, 2013 1:51 PM CST | Updated Nov 9, 2013 12:35 PM CST

(Newser) – Chaser the border collie knows about 1,000 words, and if you believe a Duke researcher, she may be "the most scientifically important dog in over a century." But her skills aren't necessarily out of your dog's reach, writes Chaser's owner, John Pilley, in Time. "Any dog is potentially capable of reaching toddler-level cognition and development, including learning the basic elements of language." Pilley taught Chaser through games, "speaking to her throughout the day in simple words and phrases just as I would to a toddler."

Learning one concept led to another. For instance, at five months old, she achieved what researchers call "one-to-one mapping," recognition that a single word can refer to a single object. After that, she learned that words can be combined into different phrases, that one toy can have multiple names, and one name can refer to multiple similar objects (like "stick.") Her learned ability to follow instructions to imitate matches toddlers' development, as does her understanding of pointing—something all dogs understand. "Through play ... Chaser continues to learn things that were once thought to be possible only for humans, demonstrating that our minds and dogs’ minds are much more alike than we think." Click for the full piece.

A screen grab from Chaser's visit to the 'Today' show.
A screen grab from Chaser's visit to the 'Today' show.   (Today show video)
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Chaser at work.   (YouTube)

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