Border Collie Breaks Vocabulary Record

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A border collie named Chaser recently broke the world's record for largest human vocabulary understood by a dog. According to a Wofford College announcement, Chaser can "comprehend the names of more than 1,000 objects."

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A report by New Scientist clarifies that Chaser was taught the names of 1022 objects. That report also mentions she can categorize the items based on function and shape, putting her on near equal intellectual footing for these skills with 3-year-old human children.

(Chaser and John Pilley; Credit: Wofford College)

Chaser well outpaced the prior record holder, another border collie named "Rico," who learned 200 words. According to this video, Chaser also understands the basic concepts behind nouns and verbs, and can make appropriate matches between the two.

Chaser essentially graduated from a three-year training program at Wofford College conducted by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley. During that time, the border collie was introduced to the names of 1022 toys. As part of her regime, the collie was asked to fetch certain toys based on their names alone.

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During one part of the experiment, a barrier was placed between the researchers and the objects, likely to help ensure that no visual cues were directing Chaser to the requested toys.

In another test, the toys were placed in a different room to further demonstrate how the words alone were directing the dog to the right toys. Reid says that out of 838 such tests over the 3-year period, Chaser never got less than 18 out of 20 right. A related study was published in the November issue of Behavioural Processes.

Adam Mikloski, founder of the Family Dog Project, told New Scientist: "The experimenters did a lot of controls to exclude alternative explanations, although from my experience the results are simply too good. This study shows that this dog has good skills for comprehension but the production side of communication is missing."

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While conversations with dogs may still be limited, Chaser joins an elite group of animals with very impressive word and memorization skills. For example, in 1995 a budgerigar named Puck was credited by Guinness World Records as having the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words.