Friday, October 18, 2013

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

I'm going to give you the coon hound perspective on a soon-to-be released book, Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words by John W. Pilley. It is a book that made me think. 

I hadn't really taken time to sit back and think about how I learn things... I just learn. And I don't think my owner thinks about how she teaches me things... she just tries to teach me things. Sometimes she confuses me by using two different words for one thing and being inconsistent with the treats. I don't think she's the greatest teacher but I know she loves me. So I was really glad to go away to the Doggie Country Club and have time to read this new book about a border collie who learned 1,000 words. In fact, it was so easy to read it took me only three evenings, alone in my cabin, to read it. And I LEARNED A LOT!

I have been with my owner since I was four years old, much older than Chaser, the border collie in the book, when she came to her family. She was just a cute puppy with soft fur. They had lots of time to teach her things. Another thing they had going for them was that Chaser's owner was a retired professor of psychology at Wofford College and he needed a post-retirement hobby. He had lots of time on his hands. Instead of traveling like my owner does and boarding Chaser, he made it his project to teach chaser words and behaviors from the get go. He knew how animals learned and he had worked with dogs before Chaser. He kept up with the research on animal behavior.

He had read about a dog that knew a measly 200 words. He decided that his dog, Chaser, would learn at least 1,000 words.He had a plan and Chaser was at the center of Pilley's big project. And know what? Chaser loved it. I wish I had all the attention Chaser got every day. Play was the way Pilley taught Chaser. Play and compliments as positive reinforcement were the way Chaser knew if she had done what her owner wanted her to do. Chaser couldn't get enough of it. She didn't like to be idle. She always wanted to play and learn. In fact, Pilley had to teach her words like "time out" so he could do a few things for himself like watch a TV show. Now, I "time out" all afternoon sometimes. Maybe this is why I don't know 1,000 words. Ya think?

In general, border collies are really smart. They are bred to herd and they are bred to listen to the farmer, or sheepherder. Pilley had a head start because border collies naturally attend to their owners and what their owners say. Now, I have heard that border collies are even considered to be the smartest dogs in the world. So here is this man with an eager to learn puppy and time on his hands. And, to top it off, he had the theoretical knowledge to do the best teaching job possible (notice those BIG words I just used?)

I believe that coon hounds are very smart too. But we were bred for tracking and most of our smarts are in the connection between our noses and our brains. I've got Chaser beat when it comes to recognizing smells. I've got Chaser beat when it comes to following interesting animals through the woods by sniffing their trails. But, don't let my jealousy show here.... I really do think Chaser and her owner were pretty talented.

Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words takes you through this marvelous story of a relationship between a man and his dog and how that relationship, and good teaching practices, produced a very happy dog who also knew 1,000 words. These weren't just names of things. Chaser eventually learned words for 1,000 toys and could retrieve them when asked to. She could understand full sentences and learned new behaviors by imitating her owner. Oh yes, and she could overhear words and learn them that way too. Oh yes, and she eventually demonstrated deductive reasoning. This was supposed to be impossible for nonhuman animals." WOW!
Here I am with some of my toys. I only have FIVE!

I was amazed at what Chaser ended up doing, especially how she put words together. She could understand names for things, sure, but she could then understand what to do with them. She had hundreds of toys and could tell them all apart. ME? I ONLY HAVE FIVE TOYS! NO WONDER I DON'T KNOW MANY WORDS!

Now before you think Chaser was some sort of lab animal... she wasn't. She was a beloved member of a family. And, her owner made sure she also got to do what she was bred to do... herd sheep. She learned that too! NOW I DON'T GET ENOUGH CHANCES TO TRACK ANIMALS AND HAVE NEVER TREED A RACCOON! Chaser had it made.

I enjoyed Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words. I think dogs, dog owners and even psychology students would get a lot out of reading the book. And, with the holidays coming up, what a great gift idea!

I found out how dogs learn when I read Professor Pilley's book. I am glad my owner is reading it too. I am sure she'll have a few tricks up her sleeve to help me learn more words (BUT FIRST I NEED MORE TOYS!).

This book will be released on October 29, 2013 and will be available for sale on the publisher's site.

Note: As is common in the pet blogging industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary book for the purpose of review. It is a sponsored review through the BlogPaws Network.  While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.  


  1. Cinnamon, thanks for your review. I saw Chaser on TV. She was amazing. Our canine only knows the name of one toy. I'm afraid he was bred for cuteness rather than smarts. It occurs to me that maybe our dog, Dino, thinks we only know the name of one toy.

  2. Cinnamon says, "Get Dino more toys!" Dino can learn the names. I did!"

  3. Do you think the professor could help me teach my cat just one word??:-)

  4. I loved reading this. I used to have a dog who knew the individual names of at least 50 things, an I thought she was pretty smart. But I never even tried that hard--imagine what she could have done--and she was a pit bull mix (not a smartie border collie). Alas, Bogie, our yorkie-poodle mix, really doesn't like to play that much. She now has one toy that she'll play with maybe once a week, but otherwise she makes like a cat and sleeps. (Irene, maybe cats just talk in their sleep.)

  5. Yes Chaser is smart but any dog can be smart too ... just takes lots of patience n perseverance like John Pilley. We received an advance copy too for a review. Golden Love it. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  6. I love the review from your perspective, Cinnamon! I did a review too, and have been trying to read everyone else's to get their take on it. Yours is so unique! Believe me, we humans all wish we had more time to spend teaching our dogs things. If it makes you feel any better, my dogs are also feeling toy deprived now. :)

  7. I remember seeing an article about a border collie in Germany that knew the names (and colours) of a huge pile of toys that to test they had in another room where the dog had to go to collect (lest any inadvertent eye movement pointed to the toy in question)
    There's no doubt about it - Collies are sooooo smart :)

  8. Wonderful review!! We truly enjoyed the book as well. Now...perhaps Cinnamon will get more toys for the holidays? BOL! xo Chloe and LadyBug

  9. Oh, Cinnamon, who wants a smarty-pants? Stay as gorgeous as you are, wiggle when spoken to, and take your doggie-breath lozenges when needed. That's all it takes to keep your owner happy and loved!


Thanks for your comment. Love, Cinnamon