Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words #Chaser1000

Disclaimer: I was compensated to read and review this book as part of the BlogPaws Pet Blogger Network. However, all the opinions are mine all mine!

This review took me forever to write because I wanted to tell you everything about this entire book! Obviously, that would make for a super boring review, so let me just start at the end:

I loved this book.


I actually read it on the Megabus to and from Chicago, and it made the time FLY. Here’s the gist: Dr. John W. Pilley is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Always a dog lover, the loss of his beloved Border Collie left him grief-stricken. Since he was retired, he became listless – until his wife told him it was time to get a puppy.

Enter Chaser.

Pilley purchased Chaser from a Border Collie breeder, and he began to teach Chaser utilizing play. As you probably can guess from the title, Chaser ultimately learned over 1,000 words. Interestingly, she not only learned the names of objects, she learned several verbs associated with those objects (“take” or “nose,” for instance), and she learned complex three-part sentences (“Take bunny to Frisbee”). Her learning exceeded previous studies with dogs and illustrated that dogs were capable of much greater language acquisition skills than previously thought.

You can see Chaser in action and hear from Pilley in this video:

In the book, Pilley outlines his goals for training Chaser, and halfway through the book, those goals have been surpassed. And so he says, in an honest admission that I think every one of us can fully understand: He wrote this book to document Chaser’s achievements, to leave a lasting legacy of all that she’s accomplished.

The book walks the reader through the science of it all: how he designed and executed the experiments, what the behaviors and responses mean in the big picture of psychology and language acquisition, and how the work was received by the scientific community. While those topics can be overwhelming to a non-scientist, Pilley does an excellent job of making it accessible and entertaining to read with his down-home country charm.

As he says in the video, everything they’ve accomplished together is just showing science what dog owners already know: Dogs are much smarter and so much deeper than they’ve gotten credit for. And what I loved the very most about this book was the emphasis on building a strong, positive relationship (and doesn’t happiness go right along with that?)

I adore his emphasis on play. He writes:

To get the most out of a dog, you can’t be afraid to look or sound silly. You have to be willing to get down on all fours with the dog and play together like a couple of puppies.

Love that sentiment. And while Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper probably won’t learn 1,000 words, we can take a big lesson from Chaser and Pilley. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go play like a puppy!

*Chaser will be released October 29. Click here to find where to purchase the book or e-book. You won’t regret it!


  1. says

    Great review, Maggie! I know, it was so difficult to not want to tell everything about the book….to try to pick which parts of it to highlight, because it was all so good! I loved that he always put Chaser first….he never let the learning and the hoopla get in the way of just letting Chaser be a dog.

    • Maggie says

      Thanks, Jan! I’m so glad you understand my pain :) But that’s an excellent point… Chaser just got to be a DOG, which I loved! And I adore Dr. Pilley in the video. So down to earth and you can just see the love for Chaser shining in his eyes!

    • Maggie says

      Ooh! I’ll have to look for that online. They actually have a chapter in the book about filming that episode. Very interesting!!

  2. says

    great review! i participated in the campaign too and am loving checking out everyone’s reviews. i just loved how you can tell how much both john and chaser enjoyed her learning process!
    — jackie @ jade and oak

    • Maggie says

      YES! I completely agree! Any time I read about a study with an animal, I always wonder… how was the experience for the animal?? In this case, I think it’s clear that Chaser’s been having as much fun as John! It’s all about their relationship, not just scientific inquiry.

  3. Penny says

    Can’t wait to read it. I have a Chocolate Lab 5 yrs old named Roxy. She has over 100 stuffed animals. All are named and when I ask for Masie she digs in her toy box and brings me Masie. She understands everything I say. She sleeps with her babies. If I’m going out she brings me my shoes but If she doesn’t want me to go out she hides them and acts like she can’t find them. I was teaching her to shake her head for yes and no. We were butting toys in the toys box I looked she was sitting down I told her to clean up and put her babies away she looked at me and shook her head NO. That was it. I Guess I should have started with teaching her yes first. No one can get over how smart she is. I’m very lucky to have her!

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