Chaser’s vocabulary

Chaser is a border collie that not only can identify over a thousand objects by name, she even knows basic grammar and the three verbs paw, nose, and fetch, thus being able to distinguish what she was expected to do with each object. That is not all. She could also recognize categories, in other words common nouns. “She correctly follows the command “Fetch a Frisbee” or “Fetch a ball.” She can also learn by exclusion, as children do. If she is asked to fetch a new toy with a word she does not know, she will pick it out from ones that are familiar.”

Chaser will appear in the PBS show Nova on February 9.

Chaser learned one or two new words each day, requiring four or five hours of daily practice. That is some dedication. My own dog Baxter, while an eager learner, tends to call it a day after about fifteen minutes and go off and take a nap. “Everything in moderation” seems to be his motto.

I was intrigued to read that in order for her trainer to remember what he had called the thousand objects, he wrote the name of each on the object with indelible ink. It is, of course, possible that Chaser is so smart that she had learned to read, thus saving herself the trouble of learning the names of all the objects.


  1. says

    Looks like we have a new champion. On a flight to the U.K. last year, I saw an episode of the British equivalent to Nova, Horizon, which featured a border collie in Germany with similar abilities. IIRC, her vocabulary ran to about 350 words.

    More importantly, that program emphasized the extent to which dogs have literally evolved around their human “masters.” Perhaps the most interesting illustration of this was their innate ability to understand the gesture of a pointed finger. Chimpanzees, which are genetically much closer to us, haven’t got a clue what that gesture means.

  2. says

    Having spent hundreds of hours training dogs, I believe they understand many more words than their owners realize. Border Collies were bred to obey their masters. Many dogs were bred to be independent workers. They seem to know just as many words, but they are not as compliant in demonstrating their knowledge unless it suits their judgment!


  3. says

    I don’t really like being in the presence of dogs but it does not stop me admiring from afar how they can be trained to understand a wide range of commands. I do believe they can understand certain words when repeated with an action.
    However when my friend has a full blown conversation at her dog I must admit I get infuriated because of course Max doesn’t get it! She also leaves the telly on for him when she goes out!!! I often imagine him sitting there enjoying The News!

  4. says

    Amazing creature this Chaser seems to be.Its really unbelievable, not only his ability to identify the objects but also the time she gives to her training.Five to six hours a day are too much even for a human being as an employee.

  5. says


    I watched Chaser on PBS and was amazed at how many words that dog understood. I know that dogs understand sign language easier than verbal commands.
    I have owned three dogs in my lifetime and know that sometimes their verbal communication skills are not as good as body language and hand signs.
    I think you should rename Chaser Einstien.
    Love your work,

  6. says

    Wow. That is an amazing dog. Two words a day and the dog has gotten to a thousand words. I did not think dogs had such knowledge depths. I have learned something today.

  7. says

    What an amazing dog. I’m sorry I missed the tv show. I’ve trained my own dogs over the years, but not to that extent. I’m sure that training a dog to do all that is very time consuming, but rewarding.

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