Toys, Dogs, Children, and Language

Many people believe that a fundamental difference between humans and animals is that humans have a language but animals do not.

In a recent study, a border collie, Chaser, was taught the names of toys by introducing the toys one by one. The trainer repeated the name of the toy when Chaser brought it back.

  • Chaser learnt an impressive number of names – 1022 different toys.

This is more than any other animal has been taught before, and Chaser could put the toys in different categories according to the shape of the toys.

  • A young child can do similar things and categorise things according to the shape when he turns three.

Chaser was tested, and she was asked to touch the toy with her nose.

  • Over a period of three years, Chaser never got less that 18 out of 20 toys right.
  • For the test, the toys were randomly put into groups of twenty toys, and Chaser had to run into a separate room to fetch the toys.

The dog has good understanding of language, but as always in these studies, the Chaser did not produce any toy names. Or rather, not any barking that the experimenter could understand.

But Alex, the Grey African parrot, could produce sentences and vocalise the words that he was taught. Irene Pepperberg has written about how she taught Alex.

Some words from Chaser’s vocabulary: goldfish, porpoise, Merlin, eagle, shorts, choo choo, lounge, sweet potato, mallard, punt, radar, coon, hobby horse, fool’s gold, Mickey Mouse, forever, wise owl, chai, feline, bling, nosey chipmunk, black bear, croc, Cinderella, tomcat, daisy may, angel, jaguar, joker, treasure box.

The research was conducted by J. Philley and A. Reid.

Photo: Boy Playing With Spaniel by Tina Phillips

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