Research – canine companion is capable of reaching toddler-level cognition and language acquisition

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on November 6, 2013

TIME – article by John W. Pilley: “When people ask me how smart my dog is, I say that she has about the intelligence of a toddler. Chaser is a 9-year-old border collie who knows 1,000 words, but any dog is potentially capable of reaching toddler-level cognition and development, including learning the basic elements of language. Thanks to her language learning, Chaser has been called “the most scientifically important dog in over a century” by Duke University animal-intelligence researcher Brian Hare. Language learning is an interesting test of animal intelligence because it requires unconsciously grasping a series of concepts in much the same way that children do as they advance from wordless babbling to complete sentences. For me, the most crucial common characteristic of dogs and toddlers is that they both learn best through play. I made games and other playful interactions with Chaser the basis of an ongoing conversation, speaking to her throughout the day in simple words and phrases just as I would to a toddler. Our language games revolved around finding, chasing, fetching and herding her toys — behaviors that released her instinctive drives as a border collie. Instinct-based play gave the toys value in Chaser’s mind, and that in turn gave value to the words — proper nouns and common nouns, verbs and even prepositions, adverbs and adjectives — I spoke to her in connection with the toys.”

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