The remarkable story of how a border collie achieved a mastery of human language on a par with chimpanzees and dolphins.
In 2004, Pilley (Emeritus, Psychology/Wofford Univ.) was bored with retirement and welcomed the challenge of beginning a new research project. When his wife brought a puppy home, the author wondered to what extent he could teach her the meanings of words. With plenty of time now that he was retired, he spent hours playing with Chaser. As they arose, Pilley used every opportunity to verbalize so that Chaser would associate her own actions with words—e.g., saying the word “out” as he gently removed a toy from her mouth during a game of fetch and then praising her enthusiastically when she dropped the toy after hearing the word again. Over time, Chaser accumulated a wide variety of toys, each of which was given a name. Ultimately, she learned to identify more than 1,000 and fetch them from a box containing other toys or search for them when they were hidden. Further, Chaser began to understand when her owner pointed to a new toy and said its name. She was also able to infer that an unfamiliar name referred to a new toy and, when it was the only unfamiliar item in the box, identify a new toy by a name she had never heard before. Opposing the conventional belief held by dog trainers and behavioral psychologists, Pilley is convinced that dogs are not merely conditioned to respond to rewards or avoid punishment, but “can feel and express emotions and can reason.” A few years ago, the author’s research was featured in academic journals, picked up by the press and featured on TV. These days, he and Chaser are working on complex sentences.
A delightful memoir that offers a challenge to behavioral psychologists and inspiration for pet lovers.