Dog who learned 1000 nouns died
July 28, 2019 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Chaser the border collie dies at 15 Chaser was a border collie trained to recognize 1000+ nouns has died at 15. He was trained by a psychology professor, John W. Pilley.

"For three years, Dr. Pilley trained her four to five hours a day: He showed her an object, said its name up to 40 times, then hid it and asked her to find it. He used 800 cloth animal toys, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees and an assortment of plastic items to ultimately teach Chaser 1,022 nouns."

Sounds pretty intense to me. I'm not sure that most dogs could do this. It is interesting in its scientific base.
posted by kathrynm (30 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

Another Good Boi gone. :(
posted by Archer25 at 9:04 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]

In dog years it works out to be about the same amount of education, percentage-of-lifespan-wise, that high school graduates get. Imagine a world where we treated animals with the same dignity and respect and potential of humans.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:20 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]

That video was incredibly heartwarming. Thanks for this post.

15/10 for the goodest boi
posted by just_ducky at 9:23 AM on July 28

I'm not sure that most dogs could do this

most dogs don't have 800 toys! give them a chance

besides, there is absolutely no way I, a human woman, could remember the different names of 800 individual dog toys myself
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:23 AM on July 28 [18 favorites]

Animals and language is amazing, crows have a concept of lying, meerkats have grammar, dogs can learn hundreds of commands - it's why I'm convinced cats understand human speech perfectly but know better then to let on
posted by The Whelk at 9:56 AM on July 28 [13 favorites]


I remember seeing Pilley and Chaser on PBS years ago. I think it was NOVA. The amazing thing was that Chaser could even identify a toy through inference. They put a bunch of toys from her giant collection behind a sofa with an unfamiliar one and asked her to find one called "Einstein." She didn't know the name. She was confused at first, and initially came back with nothing, but then came back with the one doll she hadn't seen before--which looked like Einstein. So smart! Such a good girl!!!
posted by pangolin party at 10:00 AM on July 28 [9 favorites]

I have a border collie. She doesn't have names for 800 toys but a hell of a memory. She knows every street that could possibly lead to a vet, boarding facility or groomer and expresses her reluctance to proceed down any of them. Only has to have been there once. Also knows the same regarding parks, convenience stores and pet stores she has been to, and does her level best to route me there. We ride bike frequently with her running out in front and it can get entertaining when she decides she wants to visit somewhere she's been. And of course she's alpha female so can be very persuasive when motivated.
posted by cybrcamper at 10:35 AM on July 28 [13 favorites]


Rest well, smart pupper
posted by briank at 10:44 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]

Chaser was a boarder collie trained to recognize 1000+ nouns has died at 15. He was trained by a psychology professor, John W. Pilley.

A border collie? What did the psychologist do to make the dog forget the other 19,000+ words?
posted by loquacious at 10:54 AM on July 28 [16 favorites]

1000 Nouns To Learn Before You Die If You Are A Dog
posted by escabeche at 11:19 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]

To quote Homer Simpson:

Gee, that dog has more education than I do!

posted by klenwell at 11:32 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]

posted by clavdivs at 11:33 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, my friend's darling lab just, finally, at age ten, fetched ONE TOY upon request, so that it could be filled with peanut butter. (He'll chase a ball all day long but he's not fetching it for you, he's reloading the machine.) Respect, Chaser.
posted by praemunire at 11:35 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

Death comes for us all.

Chaser: wait, what was all that after the noun?*

(*Translated from woofs)
posted by biffa at 11:52 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

Border Collies don't need no stinkin' verbs β€” they are verbs.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 PM on July 28 [15 favorites]


Good dog, Chaser
posted by mumimor at 1:39 PM on July 28

I read Pilley's book about Chaser fairly recently. It's interesting not just for how Pilley trained Chaser, but also how they both dealt with the ensuing fame.

There's something comforting (? not the right word probably) knowing that Dr. Pilley passed away before Chaser, because he's very open in the book about not knowing how he was going to cope when the inevitable came.

posted by pixiecrinkle at 2:03 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]

That makes me wonder whether Chaser had dreams after Pilley died where a voice said Pilley's name and Chaser ran to fetch him back, pixiecrinkle.
posted by jamjam at 3:15 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]

I'm looking at Chaser's bright and eager face and thinking the reason the training sessions were "only" 4 or 5 hours is that eventually Dr. Pilley had to do other things (you know... eat, sleep, etc.). I imagine Chaser sitting there eagerly and gesturing, "Again, again!"
posted by sjswitzer at 3:38 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]

Sjswitzer, border collies love having a job, and will do their job until they fall over.
posted by maxwelton at 3:53 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on July 28

I remember seeing Pilley and Chaser on PBS years ago.

pangolin party, that was an episode of Nova ScienceNow.

posted by lharmon at 6:23 PM on July 28

> they are verbs.

posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:28 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]

What a remarkable dog and bond. Having seen animals grieve, I think it's telling that Chaser died only a year after her person.
posted by Nerdy Spice at 9:16 PM on July 28

My now-ex-wife had a border collie when we got married. Wonderful dog. Julie had to train Ishmael not to kill the chickens, but rather to herd them back to their pen. Once Ishmael caught on, she was fine. One day, Julie and I were taking a walk and Ishmael had come along. As we neared home, I saw the neighbor's cattle in the pasture. I jokingly said, "Ishmael, make yourself useful and go chase those cows." That was a sentence she had never before heard, but she understood it anyway, as if it were hardwired into her. We had never seen her move so quickly, and we had a hell of a time getting her back before she started a stampede.

Border collies know.

One for Ishmael, and one for Chaser.


posted by bryon at 9:22 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


That'll do, dog. That'll do.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:46 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]

posted by filtergik at 3:23 AM on July 29

My uncle had a dog similar to a border collie (can't remember the exact breed, this was when I was young). As kids, my brothers and I would train him the difference between his toys, and have him do all kinds of tricks. My uncle had a small business which included an intercom in his house. We had the dog do tricks to the speakerphones in other rooms! He'd watch the phone and sit, stay, etc β€”to the phone!

Downside to him was that he had nearly unlimited energy, and would tear up my uncle's backyard because he didn't have 10 hours a day to play HARD with his dog. Those animals need massive exercise and interaction so they don't obsessively run, dig holes where you don't want them, etc.

RIP, Buster.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:10 AM on July 29

posted by mfoight at 8:12 AM on July 29

Why are we not using this story to educate the public on the health risks of learning nouns?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:08 AM on July 30

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