In dg’s spare time, he is reaching beyond Chaser and Rico (see very serious NY Times article below) and teaching Lucy, the wonder dog (the NC blue dog), to read. They’re starting with War and Peace because, as dg told Lucy, it’s meaty. Lucy already has a large vocabulary beginning with words like food, breakfast, dinner, squirrel, walk, frisbee, cookie, dog and outside. She has a working familiarity with the phrase “too much dog.” Occasionally, she understands more difficult concepts such as sit, down, come, stay (rarely, though dg thinks she is playing with him; there is a hint of contempt in her eyes). With the Tolstoy novel, dg is using a reward system (much as he does with his creative writing students). He is familiarizing her with the phrase War and Peace by scraping peanut butter onto the cover. She now can find War and Peace on the book shelf or in a pile of unrelated books. Next he will train her to turn to page 1 using forepaws and nose. —dg
Chaser, a border collie who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., has the largest vocabulary of any known dog. She knows 1,022 nouns, a record that displays unexpected depths of the canine mind and may help explain how children acquire language.
Chaser belongs to John W. Pilley, a psychologist who taught for 30 years at Wofford College, a liberal arts institution in Spartanburg. In 2004, after he had retired, he read a report in Science about Rico, a border collie whose German owners had taught him to recognize 200 items, mostly toys and balls. Dr. Pilley decided to repeat the experiment using a technique he had developed for teaching dogs, and he describes his findings in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes.