Over two years ago, I wrote about Chaser, a border collie that not only had a vocabulary of over a thousand words, she could also make logical inferences. I now learn via Machines Like Us that Chaser has got even smarter. Dan Nosowitz got a demonstration of what Chaser can do.
Here is one example.
Throughout the interview, Pill gave Chaser what I considered to be some pretty intricate directions. It was never “sit” or “stop,” but things like “relax” or “go to the living room,” which Chaser actually obeyed. These weren’t to impress me; this is the way John and Sally and Pill talk to Chaser. But I wanted to see some tricks.
I got a private demonstration with Chaser in Pill’s apartment, which seemed far too put-together for a rambunctious dog like Chaser to be running through. I was given a plush donut-shaped toy, the name of which I was told is “Fuzzy.” My first task: hide Fuzzy and have Chaser find it.
“Find” is a difficult test for an animal, because it is entirely based on the spoken word. It requires that the object to be found not actually be in sight, or else how could it be lost enough to be found? “Fetch” allows the dog to see the object as it’s thrown, but not “find.” Border collies aren’t natural hunting dogs like hounds, and all dogs have pretty short attention spans, so the task of finding an object seemed tricky to me.
I hid Fuzzy under a tall piece of wooden furniture, tucked way in the corner. There was only a few inches of space underneath there; Fuzzy wasn’t really in sight at all. It was too good of a hiding place. Chaser understood the task, but got frustrated quickly, almost like a toddler. She couldn’t find it. I repeated, at John’s urging, “Find Fuzzy, Chaser! Find Fuzzy!” in an excited tone. After a minute or two of Chaser scouring the apartment for Fuzzy, John told me to play the hot and cold game.
“Seriously? She understands ‘hot’ and ‘cold’?” I said. “Oh, yes,” said John. As she got closer to Fuzzy, I said “hot, Chaser! You’re getting hot!” She got more excited at this and began more energetically searching around that area. Just in case, she turned around briefly. “Cold, Chaser!” I said. She quickly turned back around, and within a few seconds had triumphantly located Fuzzy. She clawed him out from my unfairly difficult hiding place and looked up at me, eyes round, tail wagging, ears extended straight upward. “Good girl!” I said, before wondering how old a human child has to be before being able to accomplish that task.
Here is Chaser being put through her paces.