John Pilley - CANCELLED

Genre(s) Nonfiction



John W. Pilley is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College. He has been working with Chaser since 2004 and has published the findings from their work in the journal Behavioural Processes. He lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Image by Dana Cubbage

Book Title: Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words

The amazing and heartwarming story of a very smart Border collie who knows over a thousand words—more than any other animal of any species except humans—CHASER will revolutionize our understanding of the genius of dogs.

Retired psychologist John Pilley always knew his family’s dogs were much smarter than most scientists would admit. When his wife Sally gave him a Border collie puppy shortly before his seventy-sixth birthday, he decided to prove it.

Pilley set his sights on teaching his beloved and brilliant dog a record-busting vocabulary of 1,000 proper nouns, in addition to common nouns like house, ball, and tree. By achieving this feat, Pilley demonstrated the remarkable extent of Chaser’s long-term memory, and he illustrated her understanding of words as more than object names and in more contexts than simply fetching objects. Now Pilley has moved on to further impressive accomplishments, exhibiting Chaser’s ability to understand full sentences and to learn new behaviors by imitating her trainer.

Pilley’s groundbreaking approach has opened the door to a new understanding of animal intelligence, one that requires us to reconsider what actually goes on in a dog’s mind. Chaser’s achievements reveal her use of deductive reasoning and complex problem-solving skills to address novel challenges.
Yet astonishingly, Chaser isn’t unique. Pilley’s training methods can be effectively put to use by any dog lovers looking to unlock their dog’s potential. He reveals the impact of effectively channeling a dog’s natural drives (he relied on encouraging Chaser’s natural herding tendencies—she treated her 1,000 toys like her own personal flock of sheep) and incorporating the work of learning words and sentences into stimulating play.

A devoted teacher who works with Chaser for hours each day, Pilley’s tenacity as a researcher is as inspiring as Chaser’s accomplishments. He has achieved more during his so-called retirement than many do in their entire career, and his work is making the scientific establishment rethink the limits and nature of animal intelligence. Pilley and Chaser’s story points us toward a new way of relating to our canine companions, one that takes into account our evolving understanding of the way animals and humans learn.