'World's Smartest Dog' Dead at 15

Chaser the border collie knew 1,022 nouns
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2019 11:30 AM CDT
'World's Smartest Dog' Dead at 15
Stock photo of a border collie.   (Getty Images/MirasWonderland)

A border collie that has been called "the world's smartest dog" died Tuesday at age 15. Chaser, a black-and-white pup given to Dr. John W. Pilley by his wife when the dog was 8 weeks old, learned to recognize 1,022 nouns thanks to Pilley's training. The professor emeritus of psychology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, spent four to five hours a day for three years training Chaser by showing her hundreds of objects, saying their names dozens of times each, then hiding them and asking her to find them. As Pilley explained in a book published in 2013, the dog even understood sentences that contained a prepositional object, verb, and direct object. Her death, which her family says was due to natural causes, came the year after Pilley's death at age 89 last year. "She is buried with the other Pilley dogs, sprinkled with John Pilley's ashes," the family posted on Facebook.

"What we would really like people to understand about Chaser is that she is not unique. It's the way she was taught that is unique," Pilley's daughter, who helped her dad with the training, tells the New York Times. Chaser was featured in newspapers and magazines and appeared on TV shows with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Anderson Cooper. "The goal of my father was to teach her human language, and in learning any new language, you need a vocabulary. So he began teaching her the names of her toys, which had value to her," Pilley's daughter tells GoUpstate.com. "He was able to further teach her verbs as independent behaviors from nouns and she was conceptually able to understand that words have independent meaning." A statue of Chaser, with the bronze footprints of Dr. Pilley nearby, will be placed outside Spartanburg's Children’s Museum of the Upstate next year, and a portion of a street nearby will be renamed Chaser the Border Collie Boulevard. (Read more border collie stories.)

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