If you thought dogs were dumb, then you are in for a big surprise. Chaser, a dog of the breed of border collie, has been taught the names of 1022 items. She can also categorise them according to function and shape, something children learn to do around the age of 3. Chase was taught the words over 3 years by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina as a part of an intensive training programme. The trainers followed the footsteps of Rico who was trained at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to have a vocabulary of 200 words (2004 study).



The team regularly tested Chaser on her entire vocabulary. Groups of 20 toys were chosen at random and put in a separate room from where Chaser had to retrieve them by name. The toys were in another room so the trainer would not unintentionally give Chaser cues about which toy to choose. According to Reid, the dog completed 838 of these tests over 3 years and never got less than 18 out of 20 right (Behavioural Processes, DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.11.007)..

Chaser was also taught to categorise the named objects, complete tasks such as touching the toy with her nose or paw, and like Rico, she could infer the name of a new object from a set of familiar objects.

“The experimenters did a lot of controls to exclude alternative explanations, although from my experience the results are simply too good,” says Ádám Miklósi, founder of the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Other dogs perform similar tasks, he says, but they usually make more mistakes. He thinks Chaser’s intensive training explains the difference.

“This study shows that this dog has good skills for comprehension but the production side of communication is missing,” says Miklósi. Others animals have demonstrated impressive feats of learning in which they also vocalise the words they learn, such as Alex, the grey parrot, who could make sentences out of about 100 words.Source: www.newscientist.com

This is definitely a big breakthrough as the last study showed a dog to learn 200 words. Makes you wonder if the study can be reproduced with other dogs too or did the researchers got lucky with this one?