Chaser can’t talk. But she understands more than 1,000 words. That’s about the same as a human toddler—and more than any other animal has ever learned before.
John Pilley is Chaser’s owner and trainer. He is a psychologist, a person who studies the mind, feelings, and behavior. When he adopted Chaser in 2004, he wanted to see if he could teach her more than 200 words. That was the previous record, set by another border collie named Rico.
After just three years, Chaser had learned 1,000 words, including the names of 800 different cloth animals, 116 balls, and 26 Frisbees. Why so many toys? Pilley explains that dogs are a lot like human toddlers. “They both learn best through play,” he says. To teach Chaser the name of a new object, Pilley would show it to her and say the name up to 40 times. Then he would hide it and ask her to find it. Chaser loved this game and would play for four to five hours a day.
To keep up with Chaser’s learning, Pilley would buy bags of used toys at Salvation Army stores. Eventually, he got bored with teaching her new words and began teaching her to understand simple sentences.
Could your dog do the same thing? Yes, according to Pilley. He believes that any dog can learn as much language as a young child. “Our minds and dogs’ minds are much more alike than we think,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the March 3, 2014 issue of Action magazine. To find out more about Action's great resources, click here.