A new study shows that Chaser, who gained fame by learning more than 1,000 words a few years ago, is a lot smarter than any of us knew — he’s maybe even smarter than I. You see, he knows grammar.
In the study, Chaser’s owner, Dr. John Pilley, set out to measure the ability of his genius Border Collie to learn the “syntax and semantics” of sentences consisting of three elements of grammar: a prepositional object, verb, and direct object. Chaser had to give consistent responses to commands containing those three elements (like, “to ball take Frisbee”) were mixed up (“to Frisbee take ball”).
And guess what? Chaser took the Frisbee to the ball, and then he took the ball to the Frisbee. Meaning he gets verbs, prepositions, and direct objects. He knows what fun things to take where, depending on where the words “take” and “to” land in the sentence.
Imagine the possibilities. In particular, imagine this possibility: “Chaser, to me take sandwich.”
“Chaser intuitively discovered how to comprehend sentences based on lots of background learning about different types of words,” Chaser’s owner, a retired psychology professor at Wofford College in South Carolina, told ScienceNews.
Chaser was tested with familiar and unfamiliar objects, and even took the right object to the right object when he couldn’t see them as the command was given.
Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert on canine intelligence, and who had nothing to do with the study, is not surprised.
“Roughly speaking, the average dog is equivalent to a human two-year-old in terms of mental abilities,” he told The Huffington Post. “And the ‘super dogs’ are equivalent to maybe a human two-and-a-half-year-old.”
Dr. Coren stresses that when teaching your dog commands, repetition is key. “I always use exactly the same words and I always use the words to precede an action,” he said. “I’ll say to my dogs ‘upstairs’ when I’m going upstairs or ‘downstairs’ when I’m going downstairs. And so, next time you say ‘upstairs,’ they’ll start looking for stairs to climb.”
One day, they’ll start looking for a sandwich to make.