In an incredible piece of information from the amazing world of animals, Chaser the Border Collie has been studied at the University of Woffard (not Woofard) where they discovered that he understands the names of several hundred objects and can even understand the words for acquiring them. The Collie is one of the masters of language, but is said to have the vocabulary prowess of a typical human being during early development. Now if only we could teach him to “speak.”
Chaser has been taught the names of several objects including typical nouns of several objects and then the words for what to do with them. John Pilley and Alliston Reid gave Chaser extensive training on words and their meanings and now the border Collie can not only pick these objects out in a lineup, but can understand more complex commands that make “sit” “stay” and “roll over” look like child’s play. The researchers were looking to understand what the limits of dog training could be when it came to words and commands. What they discovered was astounding. Try as they might, they couldn’t find any limit to how many words a dog could learn given sufficient training. By the end, they had taught Chaser over 1,022 words and he showed no signs of slowing down. Eventually, the test was concluded only because they ran out of time.
It’s no question that dogs are incredibly intelligent animals. In addition to being able to understand basic shapes and objects, they apparently can understand. They would even combine the preset names and commands together to see if they could figure out what he would do. After extensive training they found that Chaser not only understood the objects, but also more complex and abstract concepts behind them. The true weight of Chaser’s intelligence was astounding both to Pilley and Alliston, but left many questions still unanswered. How far could an animal’s intelligence be taken? If given the proper stimuli, how complex could the commands get? Could seeing eye dogs and other service animals one day be able to be communicated with and even communicate back in their own way? And if so, what would they say?
While it’s difficult to train a dog to do something such as express their feelings, a service animal might be able to use their training to communicate ideas about concrete objects and ideas. “I see three people and one chair in this room,” certainly doesn’t seem to be beyond the understanding of a sufficiently (and extensively) trained dog given the circumstances surrounding this experiment. Of course I wouldn’t then also expect the same dog to be able to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know about that carpet. It doesn’t seem to go well with the color scheme you have in here.” If for no other reason than dogs are colorblind.
In the beginning, dogs were thought to be dumb but trainable animals. And as we continued to study them we discovered that their capacity for language was practically without horizon. So how long before we truly understand just how far the canine consciousness can parallel our own?