Chaser the Dog Who Knows 1000 Words by John Pilley
Guest Post by: Chloe Divita
As I read the story of Chaser, I found myself re-considering some of my training methods with my own dogs, thinking through their reactions and acknowledging their differences. John Pilley, Chaser’s Pop-pop, is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College. His scientific approach to training was one I never really considered. As Chaser’s Pop-pop he is a loving, caring pet parent, and as a scientist he is organized and methodical to show us that there is more to Chaser than just training. She learns. She has the power of deduction, and his research shows that a dog’s intelligence is something that we have not fully unlocked yet.
A friend once told Pilley, “When you get a pet, sooner or later you get a broken heart.” Then, later in the book, continued that statement with, “Your heart gets whole when you can risk it being broken again.” How true is that? My heart has been filled and broken and filled and broken, and each cycle only makes my heart stronger and more able to love. Pilley’s heart being filled with Chaser after being broken by his loss of Yasha, Chaser’s predecessor, is heart-warming to read, and can be seen in this book trailer video. The loss of Yasha deeply affected him. It kept him from getting another dog for many years, but when the time was right, and when he was ready to risk his heart again, Chaser came into his life and brought a spirit back to him that had been missing since Yasha’s passing.
I wish I had the time Pilley had to raise Chaser. I would love to see where my dogs would be if I could have focused on them the way Pilley focused on Chaser. Reading about his success with her and his feelings of accomplishment when things moved forward steadily, and then his disappointment when something seemed like a set-back, were genuine and heartfelt. I could picture myself in his place and feeling what he was feeling: excited that she correctly picked 18 of 20 toys out of a pile by name, and disappointed when it took much longer to get his work with her published in a scientific magazine.
Pilley is through and through a scientist, but his world of discovery is one every dog lover can relate to. His trial and error when communicating with Chaser to go beyond knowing the names of toys created a level of appreciation for me for both Pilley’s patience and for Chaser’s abilities to learn and remember. Pilley took the time to figure out how he could communicate with Chaser so that she would understand, instead of trying to make her understand just one way. One discovery he had was that Chaser learned faster when spoken to with the same syntax structure that the Spanish language uses. Instead of “Take ball to Frisbee”, he would say, “To Frisbee, take ball.” This made all the difference in unlocking Chaser’s communication, and Pilley was pleased he had “stumbled onto a sentence format used in a real human language.”
Learning of Chaser’s skills and how Pilley was able to unlock them from her was motivating for me. I’ll have a new level of patience (I think) when communicating with my dogs. Chaser doesn’t even know how famous she is, and luckily her Pop-pop is most concerned with her learning and her communication, than with her being a celebrity. I doubt many of us will get a chance to meet Chaser in our lives because the family is quite content in their hometown, cherishing every moment with Chaser. This is a book to educate and inspire and highly recommend it.
Copies of the Book can be purchased through Chaser’s Website