Dog Has a Vocabulary of 1,022 Words

Illustration for article titled Dog Has a Vocabulary of 1,022 Words

Most dog-owners flush with pride if their canines perform a trick for a treat, but Chaser the border collie has learned over 1,000 words for his toys. Don't believe me? There's video below.


Two psychologists introduced the dog Chaser to a new toy, repeating its name over and over again. When the pile of plush amounted to 1,022 objects, they found she could fetch individual toys when requested, with groups of 20 toys being fetched 838 times over three years, with at least 18/20 correct toys chosen every time.

Lucky for Chaser, she's owned by a psychologist, Dr John Pilley, so can repeat these tests well into the night. His psychologist friend Dr Reid said "we worked with Chaser for four to five hours each day testing her on the words over and over again and were able to establish that she could remember and distinguish between them all. We're not saying this means dogs can learn language in the same way children do, but it does show they are capable of learning many more words than might have been thought." [New Scientist]

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This is an awesome story. I love any story that gives insight into the workings of an animal mind, and offers some concept of its limitations (or lack of limitations in this case).

From Sphere, by Michael Crichton:

" On your planet you have an animal called a bear. It is a large animal, sometimes larger than you, and it is clever and has ingenuity , and it has a brain as large as yours. But the bear differs from you in one important way. It cannot perform the activity you call imagining. It cannot make mental images of how reality might be. It cannot envision what you call the past and what you call the future. This special ability of imagination is what has made your species as great as it is. Nothing else. It is not your ape-nature, not your tool-using nature, not language or violence or caring for your young or social groupings. It is none of these things, which are all found in other animals. Your greatness lies in imagination.

The ability to imagine is the largest part of what you call intelligence. You think the ability to imagine is merely a useful step on the way to solving a problem or making something happen. But imagining something is what makes it happen.

This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you - the ability to imagine. "

Completely unfounded, probably, and a bit of fun for the sake of the story, but it always left me wondering what the difference really is between us and them.