Chaser and her trainer-owner John Pilley achieved international fame with their feats of vocabulary fortitude.
Pilley trained young Chaser for five hours each day over a three-year period. His technique was to show her an object, repeat its name 40 times, and then hide it.
Pilley and his daughter, Pilley Bianchi, used 800 cloth animals, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees, and an undisclosed number of miscellaneous plastic objects to tutor their ‘dog of letters.’
Before long, the dog understood the difference between over 1,000 human words. This is roughly the number of words a three-year-old human can say, although they’re probably not the same thousand words.
A respected academic
The team’s research was respected by the human academic establishment. Independent university researchers put the dog’s ability to the test in a series of studies.
“The combined findings of the three studies support the conclusion that Chaser did, indeed, process and retain memories of prepositional and direct objects,” they wrote in the journal Learning and Motivation, as reported in The Independent. “[I]n some way, her brain is partially constructed like that of humans.”
“[T]he big lesson is to recognize that dogs are smarter than we think,” John Pilley once said of Chaser, “and given time, patience and enough enjoyable reinforcement, we can teach them just about anything.”
Chaser passed away on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in the Pilley family home, having lived a long and happy life. She had previously undergone a series of accupuncture treatments for her arthritis.
John Pilley died aged 89 in 2018. Chaser is survived by Sally Pilley, Robin Pilley, and Pilley Bianchi. Her ashes were buried in the family garden among John Pilley’s ashes and the ashes of other family dogs.
Chaser will be memorialized with a bronze statue and footprints at the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Spartanburg. A portion of the street near the museum will be renamed Chaser the Border Collie Boulevard.
As Chaser herself might have told you, a boulevard is a wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees. It will surely become a pilgrimage site for intellectual dogs keen to cock a leg, wet their whistle, water their horse, or indeed ‘see a man about a dog’ in honour of the world's highest-vocabulary canine.