Dog Understands 1,022 Words
John Pilley and Alliston Reid, researchers at Wofford College in the UK, wanted to know how large a dog’s vocabulary could get with extensive training. After three years of work, they stopped teaching one border collie who developed a thousand-word vocabulary:
The authors demonstrated that their dog, Chaser, learned the names of 1,022 objects — no upper limit is apparent — they stopped training the dog after three years due to their time constraints, not because the dog could not learn more names. This study demonstrates Chaser’s ability to learn the names of proper nouns, and her extensive vocabulary was tested repeatedly under carefully controlled conditions. The authors admitted that she remembered the names of each of her 1022 toys better than they could. Chaser’s ability to learn and remember more than 1000 proper nouns, each mapped to a unique object, revealed clear evidence of several capacities necessary for learning receptive human language: the ability to discriminate between 1,022 different sounds representing names of objects, the ability to discriminate many objects visually, an extensive vocabulary, and a substantial memory system that allowed the mapping of many auditory stimuli to many visual stimuli.
Their second experiment demonstrated that Chaser really understands that these are names, and not commands to fetch the object. In order to test independence of meaning of nouns and commands, the authors randomly combined nouns with commands to see if Chaser would produce the correct behavior toward the correct object in each trial. Without special training, Chaser responded to each combination correctly, even on the first trial, demonstrating that Chaser understood that the commands and proper-noun names had independent meanings. The dog understands that names refer to particular objects, independent of the action requested involving that object.