Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Smarter Than We Realize???

Most dogs know the works "sit" and "stay", but a new study published in the journal Behavioral Processes suggests they could learn a lot more. A Border Collie named Chaser has been trained to understand the names of 1,022 objects.

John W. Pilley, a retired psychology professor at Wofford College, became intrigued by an earlier study that demonstrated a dog named Rico knew more than 200 words, so he purchased a Border Collie puppy and began his own experiment into how dogs comprehend language.

Over the course of three years, Chaser was trained to recognize the names of 1,022 different objects. The objects were toys acquired from second-hand shops that he named everything from "squirrel" to "Uncle Fuzz." Professor Pilley believes she could still learn more.

Chaser also demonstrated she could distinguish nouns from behaviors. She was taught the commands "take", "nose" and "paw" (which meant to touch the object with her nose or paw), and asked to perform these behaviors in different combination on a few of her toys. She could do it every time!

Next, Chaser was trained to recognize categories. Could she understand that a "football" and a "tennis ball", were both a ball, which is different than a "Frisbee," but they were all "toys"? She could! This is something human children learn around the age of three.

Finally, Prof. Pilley wondered if Chaser could learn a new name by exclusion. He put a new toy amongst toys she knew well, and asked her to fetch it using a new name. This was a little harder for Chaser, but she could do it!

These fascinating studies could help scientists understand how children learn language, and help us all be aware that our dogs may be smarter than we realize.

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