Bet your Christmas puppy won’t be able to do this. Actually, you’d better hope it can’t, because your dog-toy needs might break the bank.
A border collie named Chaser has learned the names of 1,022 individual items — more than any other animal, even the legendary Alex the parrot.
Psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., wanted to test if there was a limit to the amount of words a border collie could learn, so they taught Chaser the names of 1,022 toys, one by one, for three years. New Scientist reports that they got her to fetch the toy and then they repeated the name to reinforce her understanding.
They regularly tested her on her vocabulary by putting random groups of 20 toys in another room and having her fetch them by name. Chaser, now 6, never got less than 18 out of 20 right, in 838 (!) separate tests over three years.
It takes 16 plastic tubs to hold all the toys.
Watch Pilley give Chaser some impressively complex commands — combining three verbs with three nouns — in the video below. She understands the verbs “nose,” “get” and “paw.” Her reward is playtime with “Blue,” a little ball she chases across the room. For a whole collection of Chaser videos, click here.
She learned common nouns that represented categories, such as “ball,” and she learned to infer the names of objects by their association with other objects.
Rico the border collie, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, was previously top dog — he had a vocabulary of about 200 words. Chaser’s feats are chronicled in the journal Behavioural Processes.