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Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  315 ratings  ·  68 reviews
A New York Times Bestseller

The amazing story of a very smart Border collie who is redefining animal intelligence.

Chaser has a way with words. She knows over a thousand of them—more than any other animal of any species except humans. In addition to common nouns like house, ball, and tree, she has memorized the names of more than one thousand toys and can retrieve any of t
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

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John Pilley uses old-school psychology to train his border collie in Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words, co-authored with Hilary Hinzmann. What a coincidence that the methods he uses, based on his experience as a professor of human psychology, look a lot like force-free dog training!

With one exception: Like Ted Kerasote in Merle’s Door, Pilley turns to an aversive method to curb Chaser’s “chase drive.” While Kerasote used a shock collar, Pilley uses a mighty jerk
This was an enjoyable and educational read. Dr. Pilley, a retired psychology professor who loves dogs, takes the time to not only educate his border collie, but document her learning so that there is some scientific contribution made in terms of what animals can understand about language and how they learn. The book is far more in depth than any videos you can see about Chaser, yet accessible to the average reader vs. scientist in terms of methodology. It is clear that Chaser is a loved family m ...more
Mary (BookHounds)

Bottom Line: Dogs are much smarter than they are given credit. John Pilley explains exactly how quickly they learn and given the chance can communicate with us. Pilley explains how he used his dogs as research subjects in his lab in his job as a psychology professor. His students observed them and dissected their abilities. After his last dog dies, his wife insists he is getting a new puppy for Christmas and they both agree that a local breeder of Border Collies is their best
Interesting book, VERY interesting dog. Lucky dog to have come into the life of the perfect human being for her. He is a mostly retired psychology professor who loves dogs and has a lot of time on his hands, literally 4-5+ hours a day to work with the dog, plus students to help him. It's the perfect storm of people, animal, and passion for each other's well-being.

Some aspects of the book were a bit tedious. He'd start out talking about something mundane and I'd be thinking, something is going t
Sophia Velázquez
Amazing application of language psychology
Robin Tierney
This book is about a dog and also, about her person, who is a researcher and retired college professor. It is a memoir of a wonderful time in a man’s life, when he retires yet discovers a new calling. The author, Dr. Pilley, indicated that he viewed Chaser as a partner in research, and attributed the great strides they made in communication and comprehension to Chaser being able to use her own reasoning. Creative learning, not rote learning (teaching a predetermined response) -- stimulating and ...more
Reggie Billingsworth
What an intriguing read! Not great literature. More for it's astounding content, "Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog..." unabashedly makes the tale [I refuse to descend to a pun here] the thing. One glance at the exquisite cover photo and you know this dog is wired on her fantastically fortunate life!

This book stands tall as an entertaining report on the forward thinking and indefatigable attention John W. Pilley and his family have committed to inspiring and interacting CONSTANTLY with his
Ed Bond
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathleen Riley-Daniels
Once again I am amazed by the brilliance of the Border Collies. Now add into the mix a retired educator and you've got a dog that can differentiate over 1,000 words, knows some basic grammar, and is able to categorize her toys by function and shape. Chaser has intelligence on par with chimpanzees and dolphins. Like I said, amazing.

The man behind Chaser is John Pilley (a professor emeritus of psychology at Wofford University) whom Chaser knows as “Pop-Pop”, is amazing in his own right. Nudging 8
The information provided on Chaser and his ability to learn was very interesting to me personally. However, I found the positive influence this project had on the author, Johm Pilley, equally fascinating. Pilley did his extensive work with Chaser in his late 70s, and it is still continuing into his mid-80s. The research, as well as his incredibly strong relationship with his dog, have kept him physically, mentally, and spiritually energized. As a senior citizen who works with active large dogs, ...more
Jane Steff
Loved it. I want a border collie now.
Karla Eaton
What a fascinating book this was for me as a teacher and a dog lover and owner.
As a teacher, I admire Dr. P's patience and thoughtfulness. When something didn't work, he figured out a way to re-work the system so that Chaser could be successful. One of the best examples of this was trying to teach him indirect objects - like take the blue ball to the couch. She already had proper and common nouns as well as adjectives and verbs, but needed that next step. Dr. P realized that Chaser was hearing
Stephanie Jewett
I really don't think there was enough here to fill an entire book, so there was a lot of filler that I found myself skipping over. Still, I enjoyed it, and am trying some of the things I learned here with my own dog. I loved the photo on the back flap; it made me smile every time I looked at it.
Kathy England
Anyone interested in dogs and/or animal behavior should read this book. The author gets bogged down with too much detail about the everyday, notably Chaser's appearances on TV, but the information on how he taught Chaser and what Chaser is capable of is extremely interesting.
Feb 27, 2014 Theresa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: dog
Perfect book for an English teacher and a dog lover such as myself. Might be a bit of a slog for someone not quite as interested in how language is learned (by humans or by dogs). What a smart dog you are, Chaser!
A fabulous book about a man, and dog, and how their journey together has challenged what we know about animals and language. In a similar vein to "Alex and Me", the way the author wove his personal story to this scientific saga made for especially compelling reading.

The one thing that confused me as a veterinarian was his incorrect use of the terms "punishment" and "negative reinforcement". This kind of error is common in everyday folks, but this gentleman was a professor studying animal behavio
Joy Marley
I've lived with companion dogs of various breeds for over 50 years. Many dog behaviours being universal, I found Dr. Pilley's descriptions of species interactions entertainingly familiar. I also related well to his concerns regarding transitioning to a new canine friend after losing a cooperative companion dog and the difficulties of pup-raising an aging person must consider. It's readily apparent that Border Collies are in need of a job and do not let one forget that. I have a dear dog-park fri ...more
Laura Cushing
Chaser is an amazing border collie who knows more than 1000 words! More than that, she can understand some rudimentary grammar and sentence structure (like 'take ball to pop-pop' or 'nose ball' etc). Her trainer/owner, animal behaviourist John Pilley has worked with her since she was a little puppy and has acomplished some amazing things and given much insight into the way the canine mind works.

I am currently a cat owner, but had a dog growing up who continually amazed me with her understanding.
It should be no surprise that Border Collies are among the smartest of all dog breeds, but that wasn’t enough for John W. Pilley, emeritus professor of psychology and very much a dog person. In Chaser, Pilley sets out to examine if traditional methods of teaching human infants can be applied to a dog specifically bred for its intelligence; and, in doing so, to document what this teaches us about both sides of man’s best friendship.

While the concept is fascinating and the results are mind-blowing
Chaser's story reveals the potential for dialogue with dogs well beyond "fetch." When retired psychology professor John Pilley first got his Border collie puppy, Chaser, he wanted to explore the boundaries of language learning and communication between humans and man's best friend. Exhibiting high intelligence, Chaser soon learned the names of over a thousand toys and sentences with multiple elements of grammar. John and Chaser's journey demonstrates the power of learning through play and opens ...more
Chaser is the story of a very remarkable border collie. He has learned the names of more than a thousand toys not to mention phrases and commands. His owner, John Pilley, has documented the dog's training in explicit detail. It's a fascinating book to read. Dog owners will definitely look at their own pets in a new light after reading this book. I enjoyed the book very much and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the world's smartest dog. I received the book for free through ...more
Mimi Fintel
This book is about the way John W. Pilley taught his dog, Chaser, the names of over 1,000 objects. Chaser can also understand and obey sentences giving her several steps of activities to perform. Mr. Pilley theorized that if he started when his dog was very young, she would be able to internalize language much like a child does. His hypothesis proved correct. Some of the book was very scientific and I got a little bogged down with that. All in all though this book was very thought provoking and ...more
Absolutely amazing! I got this book from my mother after she saw the 60 minute episode in 2014. With a quick description of the book, I knew I would love it. It is the first book that I was able to read for pleasure during my first year of graduate school and it didn't disappoint.

Chaser has become the smartest dog on the planet and has opened up the potential for al animals and the learning process. Much of this book can be described by the back cover, a dog learns over 1,000 words. If that isn'
Marsha Hubbell
I truly believe “Chaser” by John W. Pilley is one of the best “dog” books I’ve ever read! This is the true story of a border collie that made national news by learning more than a thousand words and the story of a retired psychologist who, recognizing the intelligence of dogs, taught him. Their journey together is a guide to all dog lovers.

There are so many excerpts I “dog-eared” while reading. Here are just a few:

“A friend of mine says, ‘If you get a pet, eventually you get a broken heart.’ The
When you think of animal experimentation, you think of labs, chemicals, and ethical conundrums. Chaser's story is nothing like that. Pilley explains the background, puppyhood, and training experiences of his brilliant border collie, acquired as both a test subject and a member of his dog-loving family. Not only does he relate his methodology for teaching his wonder dog over a thousand words, Pilley candidly discusses his grief over the death of the dog who was his companion and subject before Ch ...more
Chris Craddock
A Unique Combination of Nature AND Nurture

Chaser is an amazing dog who is chronicled in a book by John W. Pilley, an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College in South Carolina. Chaser combines the instincts of a border collie with the training of a research subject in an advanced psychology experiment in language learning. A unique combination of Nature AND Nurture. She is not only a research subject, she is a member of the Pilley Family. Professor Pilley has patiently trained her in
John Pilley's telling of his time with Chaser is a fantastic look at what it means to push the boundaries of canine capability. When the scientist's passion takes the form of a family member, it creates a different situation. Pilley makes sure not to promote Chaser's brilliance at her expense. His long struggle for publication reflects the age-old resistance to paradigmatic shifts in science, and Pilley's perseverance reminds us that even the most incredible breakthroughs are often roundly rejec ...more
Amazing dog. Amazing, and super-friendly guy. I got in touch w/Dr. Pilley after reading the book (and his research papers) and he did a Skype conversation with a class I was teaching on dog-human communication. He is one in a million, as is Chaser. He is such a great example of positive training that respects a dog and her abilities... and he is a fantastic teacher as well. LOVED this book.
I remember seeing Chaser on Nova and being amazed and fascinated by her. I mean, she knows over a thousand words ! How awesome is that ? So when I spotted this book I just had to read it. I wanted to know more about how she managed to learn so many words. The book is a very enjoyable read of Chaser as a puppy and the bond she forms with the the author John W. Pilley. This bond turned out to be a very important factor in her obtaining all these words. Pilley maintains that just about any border c ...more
Loved this book about Chaser, the border collie who knows more than one thousand words. The way that Chaser can use inference to determine the name of a toy which she has never seen was fascinating. The best part is that Chaser is both smart and a part of a loving family. I recommend this for all of those interested in psychology and dogs.
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JOHN W. PILLEY is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College. He has been working with Chaser since 2004 and has published the findings from their work in the journal Behavioural Processes.
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“There was no doubt about it. Chaser had learned Puddin the pony’s name in a single trial. Identifying the new object correctly after hearing its name only once indicated that Chaser had achieved a form of referential understanding. Somehow she had grasped the idea that objects can have names.” 0 likes
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