Monday, December 27, 2010

Dog has a vocabulary of over a thousand words, study shows

By:  Kim I. Hartman      From:

Spartanburg - A South Carolina border collie has been tested and found to have a vocabulary exceeding 1000 words. During a three year period of extensive training, the dog, Chaser, was taught the names of 1,022 toys and has been able to easily recall all of them.

Psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College located in Spartanburg, set out to find out if there was a limit to the number of words the border collie could learn, reports New Scientist.

The team of researchers acquired a collection of 1022 toys and through methods that included repetition, reinforcement and name association, they spent three years training the dog involved in their study.

"The team regularly tested Chaser on her entire vocabulary," said New Scientist. Reid and Pilley tested the female border collie by grouping toys in randomly chosen sets of 20.
They would then use two different rooms to perform their research, with the toys in one and the trainer in the other. A command would be issued to Chaser to retrieve a particular item, referred to by name. Reid is quoted as saying, "the dog completed 838 of these tests over 3 years and never got less than 18 out of 20 right."

Border Collies have shown a natural ability to comprehend and understand multiple words in the human language. "A border collie known as Rico, was studied by animal psychologists from the Max Planck Institute after his owners reported that he understood more than 200 simple words," according to Wikipedia. "Rico was able to successful complete the task of retrieving the item by name 37 out of 40 times and retained the word in his vocabulary for at least 4 weeks."

"The results of four experiments investigating the ability of a border collie to acquire receptive language skills concluded that Chaser acquired referential understanding of nouns, an ability normally attributed to children," said the study.

An abstract of the study published in Science Direct said "Chaser not only learned and retained the names of 1022 toys, she demonstrated independence of meaning of names and commands and learned common nouns that represented categories and demonstrated an understanding of these words."

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