Border collies are known for their extreme intelligence and Chaser was one of the top dogs for sure. How did Chaser become the world record holder for canine vocabulary?
It began with Dr. John Pilley, a psychology professor at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC who introduced the concept of operant behavioral conditioning to his students through his first classroom dog, Yasha, a Border collie-German shepherd mix. When the bell rang to start class, Yasha would jump out of his assigned seat, walk to the door, close it, and return to his desk. Later Yasha served as a subject for student research projects in the principles of learning. “Whether Yasha is cooperative or uncooperative will depend on the relationship you build with him,” Professor Pilley instructed his students. Building relationships was the key to learning.
After Yasha, Pilley and his wife Sally brought home a joyful bundle of border collie puppy they named Chaser. Using Chaser, Pilley began an extensive research project to test the canine grasp of human language. Pilley discovered that play was an infinitely greater motivator than food as Chaser learned the names of 1,022 toys. Later Chaser could identify an unknown toy placed in a group by inference. Her learning eventually expanded to understanding multiple elements of grammar. Chaser became a star appearing on NOVA and national news programs.
Pilley stressed that his training methods could be adopted for any dog. Pilley died in 2018 and Chaser passed away from natural causes in July 2019 at age 15. The indelible bond between Pilley and Chaser shines throughout this book. 260 pages 636.737 PIL