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Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words Hardcover – October 29, 2013
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"Chaser is the most scientifically important dog in over a century. Her fascinating story reveals just how sophisticated a dog’s mind can be."
—Brian Hare, coauthor of The Genius of Dogs
"After you read Chaser, you will realize that you may have underestimated the intelligence of your dog. Marvelous insights into a dog’s mind."
—Temple Grandin, author of
Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
"This is an extraordinary book, full of warmth and wisdom that has the potential to forever change the way we look at dogs. While Chaser herself seems extraordinary, maybe she is also every dog, in showing us what every dog is capable of. Maybe not every dog can learn over a thousand words, but every dog I have ever known can read our heart, and that, to me, is the great secret between dogs and humans that we are just now learning, and which is so deeply evident in this wonderful book: Chaser loves people, and because of that love she will do anything asked of her, even learn the names of one thousand toys! Dr. John Pilley’s work with Chaser is not only a loving affirmation for readers who already know how much they adore and trust the ability of dogs, but is also a game-changer for skeptical scientists, who must find themselves, after reading this remarkable book, inching closer to recognizing the full humanity of dogs."
—Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love
"A Border Collie that understands lots of words won’t surprise people who work with these inventive dogs, but what makes John Pilley’s tale special is his dogged determination, long after his retirement from teaching psychology, to keep his own brain fizzing with all the new words and techniques and ideas he needs to learn to get his results published in a respected science journal."
—Bruce Fogle, author of The Dog’s Mind and The Encyclopedia of Dogs
"If a truly great book leaves one better for having read it, then Chaser is quite simply a masterpiece. Dogs and those of us who love them owe to debt of gratitude to the brilliant, courageous author and his equally heroic subject."
—Jennifer Arnold, author of Through a Dog’s Eyes
"An engrossing and remarkable tale." -- The Bark "A delightful memoir that offers a challenge to behavioral psychologists and inspiration for pet lovers." -- Kirkus Reviews "This marvelous blend of good science and heartwarming dog story will inspire all of us to reexamine our canine friends." -- Booklist, *starred* review
Top Customer Reviews
Its author, John Pilley Ph.D., is a retired professor of psychology at Wofford College who, during his teaching career, taught animal behavior using, as his teaching assistant, his dog, Yasha. With both Yasha and his teaching career behind him, Pilley took to moping around the house until his wife, as any sane wife would, put her foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to get another dog. Enter Chaser, a border collie puppy that enters the Pilley household and immediately takes over.
Pilley, with his background in animal behavioral research, is not your everyday dog owner and immediately sets out to answer the question, "How much can a dog learn?" Armed with love, patience and an endless supply of free time, he worked with Chaser every day, devising experiments aimed at discovering the limits of what a dog can learn. I use the words work and experiments but the truth is that everything he does with Chaser is play, at least as far as Chaser sees it. Within three years, Chaser had learned the names of 1,022 toys and was able to correctly respond to several commands related to each. She also was able to apply deductive reasoning and retrieve unfamiliar items by process of elimination.Read more ›
I'm a sucker for a good dog story, and this is definitely a good dog story. It's written very conversationally, and makes it very clear that Chaser is a loved family member and not a research subject. In fact, there's a lot of background leading up to Chaser, and we don't really see her start learning until halfway through the book. Dr. Pilley talks about his previous dogs and how they helped him in the classes he taught before retiring. He makes it very clear how much work it takes with intensive training to teach Chaser so much. I like that it also emphasizes learning through play and finding what motivates your dog.
This book reminded me a lot of Alex & Me, another great animal learning story with a personal touch, by Irene Pepperberg.
Training like this is not an activity for the casual dog owner. But it's intriguing to see that it can be done, even though I know my dogs are never going to learn much past "walkies" and "dinnertime."
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 choice. With infinite patience and his training as a scientist, he teaches his new pup to relate objects to words.
Border Collies are working dogs and love routines, without structure in their lives, they can be almost destructive. Their natural curiosity and ability to be trained is both a gift and a curse. I had an Australian Shepherd with a similar personality and if we didn't do our routine each day, he was a very unhappy dog. I had taught my dog probably 100 words and he could easily follow commands to retrieve certain objects. I never imagined that a dog could place names to over a thousand objects.
There is a science background to this book, so as well as being a memoir, it also has some wonderful information based on fact to go along with it. Chaser was featured on a NOVA program about her unique abilities. This is one fascinating look at how you can train a dog to learn more than you thought possible with a little extra time and energy. Dog and memoir fans are going to adore this story.
While the NOVA special made it sound like Chaser's story is a retired guy who gets a dog and teaches him cool things, this is also a scientific research project by a professor of psychology with specific goals, motivated by similar work done at a prestigious German research insitution.
This is not a book on the science, though; this is a book with the story of Dr. Pilley, his experiences with dogs, this particular amazing dog, and how it all happened. There's not much about dog or animal cognition or language acquisition, and that is done lightly as needed to explain emotions or actions described. It describes the training process in general, but this is definitely not a book on dog training.
Not, I'm afraid, a great storyteller; too much detail and characters with no particular contribution to the story, buildups go nowhere, the drama doesn't come to life. But it's such a remarkable thing that it doesn't matter.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was beyond fascinated with Chaser from the moment I first heard about her. This book is so moving and demonstrates how Chaser is a beloved family member as well as quite a... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Lorraine A. Lynch
BOUGHT THIS FOR MY HUBBY AND HE IS REALLY ENJOYING IT. CONTAINS HUMOR AND HELPFUL HINTS FOR DOG HANDLING FOR A BEGINNER.Published 4 months ago by Linda J. Addison
Great book! The story itself is incredibly interesting and reads like fiction, plus there is the added benefit of the awesome training tips that you find yourself trying on your... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Kelsey Koff