Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog who Knows a Thousand Words is a book which chronicles Chaser’s training and her owner, John Pilley’s dog-owning history in a friendly, citizen-science sort of way. The book details how Chaser was trained from a small pup to recognize a large number of toys by specific, unique names, an experiment devised to prove that dogs can learn language much like a human toddler does. Later, Pilley moves on to other interactions, giving specific directions as to how Chaser must interact with the named toy, where she should take it, etc. There are also anecdotes than any Border Collie owner will recognize as pure BC, such as when Chaser thinks up a ball on the stairs game and teaches it to John, or when a group of herding dogs pick up behaviors from one another by imitation.
I enjoyed this book because I live with a Border Collie and it is clear to me that she understands more of what is said to her than some people would like to think she does. My border collie understands specific object names, prepositions such as around, under, below, behind, and sequences of directions involving 3 or more ideas. She also thinks up rules to play games and communicates them, as Chaser did in the book. Although she understands commands, she can communicate when she thinks the human has given a silly command, and often, it turns out she’s right.
Most dog owners will enjoy this book, but particularly those Border Collie owners who think AKC certification is a big sham and who have the bumper sticker that says “My Border Collie is smarter than your honor roll student” will get a kick out of Chaser’s working drive. Those who are interested in primatology and the recent crossover between primate studies and dog science will find this a good addition to recent research in those fields. People who liked the Jon Katz books or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle will enjoy this as well. Strong readers in 5th grade and up will find this book fascinating as kids always believe in their dogs just as strongly as the author does.