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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  151 ratings  ·  41 reviews
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 them on command. Based on that...more
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2013)
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Jane Steff
Loved it. I want a border collie now.
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...more
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....more
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...more
I swear off animal books and then one sucks me in, this time because of my interest in language. Chaser is remarkable but apparently not unique in her ability to understand language (including syntax) and think creatively, given the amount of attention lavished on her using an approach that made it fun. Pilley likens Chaser's language learning to the way human toddlers acquire language. It's also a look at the scientific process of experimentation, documentation, and peer review that validates r...more
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...more
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
Without doubt one of the best books I've read. It works on many levels. We know, anecdotally, that dogs understand what we say to them but this book details how Dr. Pilley not only how he trained Chaser using positive methods that anyone can safely use on their own dog but he also published his research on Chaser's training. Interesting and lively enough for any dog owner to enjoy, it also details the research aspects that confirmed scientifically that dogs really do understand us when we speak...more
If you are a dog-lover who also appreciates nerdy theoretical explorations of such things as consciousness and learning, you will enjoy this book. Chaser's story also involves her intuitive bond with her owner/trainer, in which she learns to modify her behavior based on the tiniest cues of body language. A testament not only to the intelligence of dogs, but to the extent of their adaptation to living and working closely with humans.
I was totally impressed by a dog called Chaser when I watched a TV program Nova ScienceNOW "How Smart Are Dogs?"segment. Chaser not only remembered more than 1000 words, but she also managed to guess a new word by an elimination technique! I became very interested in Chaser and her owner Dr. Pilley (who is a psychologist). How did Dr. Pilley meet Chaser? Did he knew Chaser would be this smart when he met her? How did he managed to teach words? That's why I was delighted to have a chance to read...more
Thanks to and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for early access to this title.

This was a pretty interesting book. Its the story of the dog who knows the names for more than 1000 objects, and is learning simple language structure. I really appreciated how Pilley went into the details of how he trained Chaser, but would have liked it more if the book stayed in that arena. I think he spent way too much time relating the woes of getting an academic paper published. Its almost as if the author...more
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!
Cindi Ryan
FANTASTIC............ I so admire the dedication of Dr. Pilley .... his work with Chaser was incredible! And it is great to know that others believe that dogs and all animals are incredibly smart!
A fun and very sweet memoir of living and working with the now well-known Chaser, the border collie who knows 1,022 words. John Pilley, Chaser's human and a professor at Wofford College (where, coincidentally, my grandfather went to school), is deeply endearing, and his kindly spirit is one of my favorite aspects of this book. Dogs are far more intelligent and perceptive than we often believe, so many thanks to Pilley and Chaser for reminding us of that fact.
This was great in so many ways. It was a great book about dogs, specifically Chaser. The author has a delightful way of describing her exploits. It is also a great explanation of dog psychology and learning. Reading training guides has not been nearly as helpful as this, mostly because I think the guides do treat dogs as too simple sometimes. It also helped to read from the owner/trainer's perspective as he worked out how to train Chaser. I plan on using some of these ideas in the very near futu...more
Anne Egbert
I saw Chaser on tv several years ago. Nice to get to know him and his family. Dogs are so amazing.
Natalie K
This was an interesting book. The author bounced from story to story throughout the book, making it a bit uneven.

Chaser's story is an amazing one though.
Feb 11, 2014 Art marked it as to-read
- discovered on the library new books shelf
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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.
More about John W. Pilley...

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