Chaser has a way with words. She knows over a thousand of them – more than any other animal of any species except humans. In addition to common nouns like house, ball, and tree, she has memorized the names of more than one thousand toys and can retrieve any of them on command. Based on that learning, she and her owner and trainer, retired psychologist John Pilley, have moved on to further impressive feats, demonstrating her ability to understand sentences with multiple elements of grammar and to learn new behaviors by imitation.
John's ingenuity and tenacity as a researcher are as impressive as Chaser's accomplishments. His groundbreaking approach has opened the door to a new understanding of animal intelligence, one that requires us to reconsider what actually goes on in a dog's mind. Chaser's achievements reveal her use of deductive reasoning and complex problem-solving skills to address novel challenges.
Yet astonishingly, Chaser isn't unique. John's training methods can be adopted by any dog lover. Through the poignant story of how he trained Chaser, raised her as a member of the Pilley family, and proved her abilities to the scientific community, he reveals the positive impact of incorporating learning into play and more effectively channeling a dog's natural drives.
John's work with Chaser offers a fresh perspective on what's possible in the relationship between a dog and a human. His story points us toward a new way of relating to our canine companions that takes into account our evolving understanding of the way animals and humans learn.
John W. Pilley is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College. He has been working with Chaser since 2004 and has published the findings from their work in the journal Behavioural Processes. Hilary Hinzmann is a freelance editor and writer based in New York City.
"There probably isn't another breed of dog with the drive to work as the border collie, so it is no surprise that the dog that knows more than 1000 words is that breed. Chaser arrived in the author's household as an eight-week-old puppy, destined for the dual role of pet and research subject. From the start, she demonstrated a quick ability to learn, a strong herding drive, and an open and accepting personality, all of which made her the ideal dog for training and for advanced learning. In a warm, folksy narrative style, Pilley describes the steps he took in teaching words to Chaser: along with learning the standard herding commands, Chaser was also taught to differentiate between her toys by their names. Pilley artfully describes his training techniques, which can be extrapolated to any dog, and shows us exactly how Chaser learned. When the author and a colleague published a scientific paper on Chaser's achievements, her fame went viral, and she was invited to demonstrate her genius on TV. This marvelous blend of good science and heartwarming dog story will inspire all of us to reexamine our canine friends."
– Nancy Bent, Booklist starred review
"Chaser is the most scientifically important dog in over a century. Her fascinating story reveals just how sophisticated a dog's mind can be."
– Brian Hare, coauthor of The Genius of Dogs
"After you read Chaser, you will realize that you may have underestimated the intelligence of your dog. Marvelous insights into a dog's mind."
– Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
"This is an extraordinary book, full of warmth and wisdom that has the potential to forever change the way we look at dogs. While Chaser herself seems extraordinary, maybe she is also every dog, in showing us what every dog is capable of. Maybe not every dog can learn over a thousand words, but every dog I have ever known can read our heart, and that, to me, is the great secret between dogs and humans that we are just now learning, and which is so deeply evident in this wonderful book: Chaser loves people, and because of that love she will do anything asked of her, even learn the names of one thousand toys! Dr. John Pilley's work with Chaser is not only a loving affirmation for readers who already know how much they adore and trust the ability of dogs, but is also a game-changer for skeptical scientists, who must find themselves, after reading this remarkable book, inching closer to recognizing the full humanity of dogs."
– Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love
"A Border Collie that understands lots of words won't surprise people who work with these inventive dogs, but what makes John Pilley's tale special is his dogged determination, long after his retirement from teaching psychology, to keep his own brain fizzing with all the new words and techniques and ideas he needs to learn to get his results published in a respected science journal."
– Bruce Fogle, author of The Dog's Mind and The Encyclopedia of Dogs
"If a truly great book leaves one better for having read it, then Chaser is quite simply a masterpiece. Dogs and those of us who love them owe to debt of gratitude to the brilliant, courageous author and his equally heroic subject."
– Jennifer Arnold, author of Through a Dog's Eyes
"An engrossing and remarkable tale."
– The Bark
"A delightful memoir that offers a challenge to behavioral psychologists and inspiration for pet lovers."
– Kirkus Reviews