Friday, May 2, 2014

Chaser, John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann

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


Dr. John W. Pilley, Hilary Hinzmann

Category: Nonfiction; Science; Dogs

Synopsis: Psychologist John Pilley teaches his Border Collie, Chaser, 1,022 words, more than any animal but man.

Date finished: 2 April 2014

Rating: ****

By now you know that I love dog books. And while I don’t read a lot of science books, I enjoy the ones I read. So this book was a great combination of canine heart and scientific discovery.

This is really a fascinating discovery, and it’s written for the average person without much background in psychological experimentation. Not only does Pilley teach Chaser the names of 1,022 toys, but he teachers her to retrieve them on command. Beyond this, Chaser learns to retrieve an unknown toy from a pile of known toys by deduction. And then Pilley takes things a step further to teach Chaser the meanings of sentences with nouns, verbs, and direct and indirect objects. This is done by imitation.

These findings, published in a peer reviewed science journal, demonstrate animal intelligence that has long been denied by other scientists. Pilley’s studies with Chaser also give insight into language acquisition in toddlers.

The thing I loved above all with this book was the tone. Dr. Pilley has a zest for life and learning. He’s inherently positive. I think he might be one of those people who buzzes with energy. The book was infectious.

There are times when the writing gets a big bogged down in psychology research terms that I didn’t seem to retain. I skimmed a bit when he went into detail about how the studies were performed, and what controls were set in place.

It’s interesting to note that Pilley had to write each toy’s name on it with a Sharpie so that he could keep them straight!

Beyond his studies with language acquisition, though, I also gleaned practical tips on training a dog. Basically, you train by naming and encouraging the dog’s natural movements and actions.

And rest assured, Chaser is not Pilley’s science experiment, she’s a member of the family. She plays. She butts into conversations. She likes Frisbees and tennis balls. But given the Border Collie’s high levels of intelligence, learning comes naturally. And given the retired psychology professor’s love of discovery and demonstration, you have a pair with few limits.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

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