A female border collie named Chaser, owned by Dr. John W. Pilley of Spartanburg, SC, has the largest vocabulary of any known dog -- 1,022 nouns -- according to The New York Times.
Dr. Pilley, a retired psychologist who taught at Wofford College, acquired Chaser in 2004 as a puppy. For four or five hours per day, he showed her an object, said its name up to 40 times, then hid the object and asked Chaser to find it. Chaser learned one or two new items a day and loved every minute of it. "She still demands four to five hours a day," Dr. Pilley told the Times. "I'm 82 and I have to go to bed to get away from her."
The vocabulary relates to physical objects, each of which is given a name the dog can recognize. Dr. Pilley had to buy hundreds of items, writing the name on each item with a permanent marker. Technically, the 1,022 words Chaser knows are all proper nouns. But she also recognizes phrases and can distinguish between "Fetch a Frisbee" or "Fetch a ball." Dr. Pilley even got Chaser to distinguish between three specific actions -- "pawing," "nosing" or "fetching" each object.
Dr. Pilley suspects Chaser could have learned more words, but he grew tired of teaching her when she reached 1,000 items. Now, he says, he is trying to teach Chaser some elementary grammar. "We are interested in teaching Chaser a receptive, rudimentary language," Dr. Pilley said, with the goal of developing methods that will help increase communication between people and dogs.
Chaser will be featured in a Nova episode on animal intelligence which airs on PBS on February 9. For more about Chaser, read the entire New York Times article here.
Photo: Cass Sapir/Nova Science Now