Can animals learn English? While the chances of your dog being able to comprehend Shakespeare are probably not very good, most dogs can learn at least a few human words. Even my friend’s big, stupid black lab knows what “walk” and “out” mean. Fortunately, he hasn’t yet learned how to spell, so if we want to go out without including him we can just say “o-u-t” and he’s none the wiser.
And then there’s Chaser, the border collie. Time Magazine calls Chaser “the smartest dog in the world.” After a three-year training program, psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College claim that Chaser knows 1,022 different words. These include both names for her toys and simple verb commands like “paw,” “nose” and “take.” She can also combine any of these commands with the appropriate toy. Impressive…but can she spell?
Apparently, Chaser’s vocabulary and her ability to sort toys puts her on the same cognitive level as a human three-year-old.
In an article in the Daily Mail, Professor Reid explained the purpose of the experiment:
“We wanted to see if there was a limit to the number of words a dog could understand, and if they could understand the name of an object rather than just respond to a command related to an object, such as fetch. 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.”
Watch Chaser demonstrate a fraction of her prodigious vocabulary here: