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.
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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.
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!
Buy Chaser here. You will LOVE it, promise!!