A celebrated border collie named Chaser who has been dubbed ‘the smartest dog in the world’ for her impressive ability to recognize more than 1,000 words has died at her family’s home in South Carolina.
Chaser passed away of natural causes last week in Spartanburg. She was 15 years old.
The dog’s owners, the Pilley family, announced the sad news of her death on a Facebook page dedicated to Chaser on Friday.
A border collie named Chaser who has gained international fame as ‘the smarter dog in the world’ passed away on July 23. The 15-year-old (pictured right in June) died of natural causes
Chaser’s beloved owner, Dr John Pilley (left), who had taught her more than 1,000 words, died in June 2018 at the age of 89
Chaser became a celebrity thanks to her ability to recognize the names of her 1,022 toys
‘We are beyond sad to report that on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in the Pilley family home, Chaser got her wings, joining John Pilley for their next adventure,’ the status update read.
WHAT WORDS DID CHASER KNOW?
Among her 1,022 words, Chaser could match the following words with a toy in her collection:
Armadillo, Santa Claus, Sweet Potato, Porpoise, Donut, Pooh Bear, Purple Holey Ball, Listerine, Mosquito,Tangerine, Zombie, Wolverine, Boomerang, Jackrabbit, Comeforth,Groovy, Holy Grail, Buoy, Clodhopper, Poltergeist, Mischievous, Liquid, Tentacle, Voyageur, Muscleman, Redneck Pheasant, Lamaze, Floozy
In her final moment, the clever canine was surrounded by her owners, who described her passing as ‘peaceful, beautiful, quiet.’
According to the post, the long-in-the-tooth pooch had been doing well recently, but her health took a dramatic turn for the worse a couple of weeks ago.
The beloved pet was laid to rest alongside the family’s other deceased dogs and had her burial site sprinkled with the ashes of her late owner, Dr John Pilley, who succumbed to leukemia in June 2018, just two weeks before his 90th birthday.
Pilley, an emeritus psychology professor at Wofford College in Spartanburg, welcomed Chaser into his family in 2004 after getting the puppy as a gift.
Six years later, he made international headlines after publishing a paper with a colleague in a British journal, Behavioural Processes, about his border collie’s unprecedented understanding of language.
Chaser once appeared on the Today Show to show off her impressive skills
She was also featured on an episode of 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper (pictured)
Specifically, by the time she turned three years old, Chaser had learned the names of her 1,022 toys through play and repetition.
In 2013, Dr Pilley wrote a bestselling book titled, ‘Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of The Dog Who Knows A Thousand Words,’ in which he detailed the process of teaching Chaser human language.
When she was just weeks old, he introduced her to learning by incorporating it into her actions; if he saw her fetch an item, he would say the word ‘fetch’ until she associated that word with what she was doing.
At five months old, Chaser had her first conceptual breakthrough when she realized that her toys could each have individual names. Pilley would pick a toy, assign it a name and then show it to Chaser, using repetition, play and praise (lots of ‘good girl!’s) until she associated the toy with that word.
Dr Pilley and his wife welcomed the border collie they named Chaser as a puppy in 2004
Pilley, an emeritus psychology professor at Wofford College (pictured with Chaser, left), in 2013 published a bestselling book detailing how he taught his dog English words
Pilley employed pay and repetition to teach his dog the names of her toys
Impressively, she realized that the verbs she had learned – ‘fetch’, ‘take’, ‘nose’ – and the objects’ names had different meanings and could be combined in a number of ways to instruct her to do different things with different items.
Moreover, as well as understanding individual names for items, she also learned that a common noun, such as ‘toy’, ‘ball’ or ‘stick’, is an umbrella term and can refer to many objects.
Her understanding of her toys’ names became so secure that if Pilley told her to fetch an item she had never heard of before, she could reason by exclusion – that is, pick out the new toy from a group of familiar objects based on the fact it was the only one she didn’t know. This shows a creative reasoning that scientists had previously never thought dogs could achieve.
Astonishingly, Pilley discovered that she was capable of learning 10 words a day – the same as a nine-year-old child.
Chaser is pictured with one of Dr Pilley’s daughters, Deb Pilley Bianchi, who was there when the pooch breathed her last on July 23
But because she also needed more repetition than a nine-year-old to grasp the words, he decided to teach Chaser one or two a day instead – the same as a toddler.
Chaser’s incredible tale had been told many times in news and magazine articles, as well as in TV segments over the years.
She was a guest on the PBS show Nova ScienceNOW with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and was featured on an episode of 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper.
A bronze statue honoring Chaser will be erected in front of The Children’s Museum of the Upstate-Spartanburg by next spring.
‘Her story is far from over and we need all of you to keep the light burning bright,’ the smart pup’s family wrote on Facebook.