Jan. 4, 2011 at 7:03 PM ET
Chaser the border collie might have to add "celebrity" to her repertoire of more than 1,000 words, because that's what she's becoming. The 6-year-old dog is currently recognized as the world champion for canine word comprehension, thanks to three years of intensive training at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
Wofford psychology professors John Pilley and Alliston Reid report in the journal Behavioural Processes that Chaser learned the names of 1,022 objects, and she demonstrated that she understood the meanings of those separate names, categories and commands in a series of hundreds of fetch trials. Sometimes the dog did better than her handlers, who reportedly had to write the names on 1,022 toys to recall them correctly.
"This research is important because it demonstrates that dogs, like children, can develop extensive vocabularies and understand that certain words represent individual objects and other words represent categories of objects, independent in meaning of what one is asked to do with these objects," Reid said in a news release.
Chaser's vocabulary is said to come close to the capacity of a 3-year-old child. But her fame is taking on the viral character usually associated with teenage pop stars: Wofford lists more than 70 online reports about Chaser's prowess from around the world, and she's due to be profiled next month on public television's "Nova ScienceNOW" program.
The previous record-holder in the canine comprehension category was another border collie named Rico, who was taught more than 200 words by German scientists. Here's a 2004 video about the research with Rico:
In addition to spoken word recognition, dogs are said to understand gestures as well as 2-year-old children, and I know for a fact that they can spell. Even sounding out the letters "W-A-L-K" puts my Cavalier King Charles spaniel into a tizzy. But Chaser still has a ways to go if she wants to catch up with the word wizardry demonstrated by the dearly departed Puck, a budgerigar who had a 1,728-word vocabulary. Puck, who passed away in California in 1994, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the bird with the largest vocabulary in the world."
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