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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,080 ratings  ·  160 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 2013)
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Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animal-books
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
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The story does have a scientific background in language learning, but it's primarily a memory, author's personal experience of the communication with the dog, through training. It's difficult to avoid the comparison between own dog with Chaser - which is extremely susceptibility to learning, but I'm convinced that we all see our own pets as the smartest (and the most beautiful) animal in the world, and that we all can share our own breathtaking experience of our pets in communicating with us. Th ...more
Dec 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chaser is a border collie who knows the names of over one thousand of her toys. She can fetch them, paw at them or nose them on command- by others too not just her dad/trainer. This is the story of how Dr. Pilley, a retired psychology professor trained and tested Chaser. It also covers how they got published and the shows they were on.

It is very interesting if a little long winded. Chaser knows a bunch of balls by ball, an individual name and toy. How Dr. Pilley taught this to Chaser was gone o
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
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. ...more
Jackson Matthews
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So much nicer an ending than Dogs of Babel! We need to learn the language of dogs instead of thinking they need to speak the language of humans.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don’t think there are many who would deny that pets can understand some things that we say. And some pets are smarter than others. Dogs particularly seem to have a gift of intelligence, especially breeds like border collies.

A friend has a border collie who I have “dog-sat” several times over the years. Flash amazes me with her soulful eyes and the way she seems to understand. Once this summer I came in to take care of her. I couldn’t find the ball she loved to play with so I asked her, “Flash,
Gabrielle Schwabauer
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chaser is a Very Good Dog.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. Heart warming. And a pretty good read, too! Really enjoyed Pilley's journey and Chaser's responses as she learned to have enormous fun doing what she was bred to do: herding sheep... but without the sheep! I especially loved Pilley's descriptions of Chaser's celebrity appearances on network TV. If you truly love dogs, don't miss this book! In the author's own words...
"The journey with Chaser always has the same number one priority: fun. Sally and I find fun with her every day, a rou
Dawn Hough
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dog-books
This is the second time round reading this book. It's the story of an incredibly, patient and loving scientist, a brilliant man and his dog. So sorry to hear of Dr Pilley's recent passing but what an extraordinary contribution this man and his dog have made to the understanding of the intelligence, awareness, empathy, and learning ability of man's best friend. Dr. Pilley's respect for his dog and his connection of fun and learning are amongst some of wonderful aspects of this story that will rem ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book but there are some major problems with it.
First of all, Pilley isn't a good writer and can't make good decisions on what to include and what to leave out.
The irony is that his paper to Science was rejected just because of this. To give a few examples. He often talks like talking to a child explaining things about dogs and trying to give it a cute feel. Then he switches to semantics.
If the audience is more like the kid he will not understand one bit of the scie
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book about an amazing animal. What this book is really good at doing is comparing your own, untrained animals to the wit of Chaser. I mean sure, Danny understands 'Get a Ball', but I've never discriminated against any of his toys. They are all 'Ball' and a stick does just as well. That this dog knows each of its toys by name, and knows the difference between nosing or taking the toy amazes me. I knew Border Collies were intelligent (two of my boys are half Border Collie) but this dog ...more
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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!
Kathy England
Apr 05, 2014 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Noella Allisen
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Now that's one smart dog and an incredibly dedicated, patient, loving owner. All of this came out loud and clear in this book. I can't say I was riveted to the story but it was interesting to read about the training. ...more
Jane Steff
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Loved it. I want a border collie now.
Sophia Velázquez
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing application of language psychology
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of my favorite dogs when I was a child and in my adult life were/are Border Collies - or had traces of Border Collie in their lineage. There was Ben, Falkor, Gus & Joey, Hank, Tanner, Fly & Rex. They were/are exceptional dogs. Every man worth his salt has a predilection towards a certain breed or traits becoming of a certain breed of dog. Dad's dog of choice is Border Collies.

After relaying his own excitement about reading this book and his subsequent sterling review, he sent me his copy i
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: animals
I really enjoyed this book. I came across it through a used book sale and until then I had never heard about Chaser. What impressed me most about this story was his age and the inspiration it was. Most people figure at 80 years old life is just about retirement but here he was actively pursuing publication in a field that is hard to be published in due to the preconceived bias humans in general have that we are superior intelligent beings and all other animals are not. However, being around anim ...more
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about Chaser, the intelligent Border Collie, whose master, Prof. John Pilley trains to identify her stuffed animals by their proper names and takes it even further by teaching her nouns, verbs and direct objects. It's the story of the relationship between Chaser and her family, especially her close relationship between the professor and his beautiful puppy. He begins working with her as an 8 week old puppy and ultimately, his training of her results in national recognition of he ...more
Leanna Aker
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story about Chaser and his retired-from-academia owner. The story discusses how Chaser came to know over 1000 words, learn how to identify objects by exclusion, and start to put together 3 part commands (take one object to another object). It helps the story that Chaser is very endearing. :-)

One minor gripe.... at times the book seems to take the flavor of a dog training book. (i.e., do it this way). However, I think that if the "typical" dog owner was looking to train a "typical"
Steve Nolan
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've read a lot of books about famous animals recently, and this is by far the best one. (It's so deep in my wheelhouse I think it can't ever get back out.)

You get a real sense of what the person, animal and science are all doing, which is a lot more than most of these books do. (Usually it's just a recollection about what the animal's owner's life was like. Which, I don't care, you're not the point of this. Tell me more about the cute puppy.)

It'd prolly have been a 5 star review, if not for th
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-19
Pretty fascinating stuff, here. Man sets out to see how many words he can teach his Border Collie puppy, and basically finds there isn't any answer to that question. Most interesting to me was that he could teach the dog "take the ball to Pop-Pop" but only if he reversed subject and object in the sentence, as they do in some languages other than English: "take, to Pop-Pop, the ball."

I was less than thrilled about two-thirds through when the chapters started to focus on where they exhibited Chas
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was really interesting to discover how a man can teach a dog so many words through play.
Chaser was a great dog and as an owner of a border collie pup I wanted to know more about how Pilley arrived at such a great success with his dog. She learnt more than 1000 words and remembered all of the names. Good book for people really interested in the subject. Sometimes may seem boring because he talks a lot about the experiments (difficult to understand if you're not an expert in psycology) and less
Kandice C.
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book took my interest in animal behavior to another level and into how in-depth a scientific process can be for any experiment. Has great reference to News sources and the history of this amazing dog, as well as videos provided in the book. I enjoyed how interactive the book can be, for those who wish to learn and see more than just reading the information provided throughout the book. Gave me a good light on criticism of whether or not animals can learn if it's at all possible. This is a g ...more
Linda Roschi
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have a border collie who has not lived up to his potential, I guess. We ask him to get a toy and we are lucky if he brings anything back. We love him anyway.
Chaser is amazing and has the most wonderful family. Her story is insightful and portrays the human bond so many of us experience. Rven though some of the psychology and experiments were detailed and more than I needed, I appreciated hearing about the results and how people all over the world related.
Charles T Thoennes
Great insight into the learning possibilities of dogs

While not many of us have the scientific background or large amounts of time to dedicate to training our dogs, I'm thankful that Dr. Pilley did. He showed us that dogs learn from everyday activities much more than we may be aware of. And most importantly, that dogs have a greater aptitude for training than we had thought possible before Chaser came along.
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Free Books, .99, ...: Chaser and Decoding Your Dog! 2 12 Jan 31, 2014 01:36PM  

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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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4 likes · 3 comments
“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.” 2 likes
“The spirit of our relationship with one pet lives on in and shapes the spirit of our relationship with another pet, even years later.” 0 likes
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