September 11, 2015 | Posted in Discover These Doggies!!
Hey, boy, wanna go out? Okay, get down. Now, stay …
If those are the only words your dog seems to know—or respond to—we think you’ll be fairly impressed by the vocabulary of one particular canine. The dog knows and responds to an astonishing few hundred different words and phrases. No joke!
Her owner, John W. Pilley, has written and distributed an educated piece of canine literature explaining the origins and extent of her achievements. Pilley, notably, is a South Carolina author and professor emeritus of Wofford College (a fancy word for “retired” and, no, it’s not Woof-ord).
“When people ask me how smart my dog is,” he explains, “I say that she has about the intelligence of a toddler. Chaser is a 9-year-old Border Collie who knows 1,000 words, but any dog is potentially capable of reaching toddler-level cognition and development.”
Pilley says Brian Hare, an animal-intelligence researcher at Duke University, dubbed Chaser “the most scientifically important dog in over a century.” And that having a big vocabulary and being able to speak and comprehend isn’t a trait strictly associated with intelligence in humans.
“Language learning (in dogs) requires unconsciously grasping a series of concepts in much the same way that children do as they advance from wordless babbling to complete sentences,” Pilley adds, noting that dogs learn best when engaged in play.
“Our language games revolved around finding, chasing, fetching and herding her toys—behaviors that released her instinctive drives as a Border Collie.”
“Instinct-based play gave the toys value in Chaser’s mind and that, in turn, gave value to the words: proper nouns and common nouns, verbs and even prepositions, adverbs and adjectives I (used) in connection with the toys.”
Cues and gestures used when she was as young as 5 months helped Chaser “map a particular word to a particular object”. That led to her understanding complex concepts like how words can be used and have meaning when used together and separately.
“She learned that a single thing can have more than one name like a favorite stuffed animal that can be identified both by a unique proper name like Franklin and the common noun toy … (and) she can identify a new object she’s never seen from among a group of familiar objects.”
She learned all of that, Pilley says, in three years’ time. Wowsa! Now she’s fetching like items, imitating behaviors and no doubt expanding her list of known words. That kind of behavior, over time, will make her better at solving problems—and doing it creatively!
“The greatest misconception about animal intelligence,” Pilley explains, “is that animals and humans have completely different kinds of minds. Through play … Chaser continues to learn things that were once thought to be possible only for humans.”
For him, this proves that dogs and their owners are more like-minded than we thought.