Considered one of the brightest breeds, Border Collies are known for being thinkers, but a very special Border named Chaser has set a new mark of excellence – by learning the names of 1022 toys. She is also able to categorize them by shape and function.
An experiment conducted by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley was designed to see how many words a border collie could learn. A training program was established where toys were introduced one by one and names called out. Chaser was then asked to fetch each repeatedly until names were learned.
Over the course of three years Chaser was tested 838 times with 20 toys placed in an adjoining room. When he was asked to fetch each, she never got less than 18 out of 20 correct to the surprise of her trainer. The toys were placed in another room in order to avoid any body language influence by the trainer. “The experimenters did a lot of controls to exclude alternative explanations, although from my experience the results are simply too good,” said Ádám Miklósi, founder of the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. “This study shows that this dog has good skills for comprehension but the production side of communication is missing.”
According to a study published in 2004, a dog named Rico trained at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and was able to identify new objects in groups of familiar objects, while developing a vocabulary of 200 words. Chaser’s new record leaves a lofty mark for her peers to strive for – and scientists are encouraged at the findings, but are quick to point out that there exists a gap between the ability of dogs to learn words versus the ability to employ them in speech, whether by sign or otherwise.