Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Vocabulary Of Dog

Dog Is Listening

The Classic: Gary Larson's The Far Side, 1980's

Interesting Dog Category: The always indefatigably charming New York Times online reports that 82-year-old Dr. John W. Pilley, a retired psychologist and university professor in South Carolina, had read a report in Science magazine about Rico, a Border Collie whose German owners had taught him to recognize 200 items, mostly toys and balls.

Dr. Pilley decided to repeat the experiment with his own adopted Border Collie, named Chaser, and recently published his findings in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes.

Chaser And Dr. Pilley (Photo: HWT Image Library)

He bought Chaser as a puppy in 2004 from a local breeder (the Times reported), and started to train her for four to five hours a day. He would show her an object, say its name up to 40 times, then hide it and ask her to find it, while repeating the name all the time. She was taught one or two new names a day, with monthly revisions and reinforcement for any names she had forgotten.

One of the goals was to see if he could teach Chaser a larger vocabulary than the 200 words Rico had acquired. But that vocabulary is based on physical objects that must be given a name the dog can recognize.

Who Has The Larger Vocabulary Here? It's A Tossup.

Pilley said that most border collies, with special training, could reach Chaser's level of comprehension. When Chaser’s dog breeder was told of the experiment, he expressed no surprise about the dog’s ability, "just that I had had the patience to teach her,” Dr. Pilley said.

"Chaser proved to be a diligent student," sadi the Times. Unlike human children, she seems to love her drills and tests and is always asking for more. 'She still demands four to five hours a day,' Dr. Pilley said. 'I’m 82, and I have to go to bed to get away from her.'

Chaser, With Dr. Pilley (At Rear On Right)

Anyone who's spent time around a Border Collie will know their almost inexhaustible capacity to, you know -- do stuff. All the time. Personally, I consider that breed obsessive-compulsive show-offs, but what do I know.

Anyway: We're Listening. Wonder why we don't do more than Bark? When humans say anything that actually makes sense, we'll reply; we just haven't heard it yet.

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