In the video PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, at approximately 06:12, the woman says that there is/was a dog that was trained to have memorized 1400 names of toys. Its master would call out the name of the toy, and the dog would bring the toy from the adjacent room. Is this true/possible?

  • There's an example of something similar to this in a NOVA about dogs. pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/how-smart-dogs.html
    – SteveGSD
    Mar 7, 2012 at 1:53
  • Google for dog vocabulary finds many results, e.g. this one: nytimes.com/2011/01/18/science/18dog.html?pagewanted=all I'm not sure how much more confirmation or information on the subject you want.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 7, 2012 at 2:55
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    Anecdotally we had a border collie that knew the names of about 20 different toys including a Blue Rubber Elephant called "Republican." She knew the names of rooms so I could tell her to go laydown/play in the living room, bedroom, basement, etc and she would. She had an uncanny memory for where she last had her toys too.
    – Chad
    Mar 7, 2012 at 14:53
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    When books mention a max vocab for animals usually they mention something like 250. So animals can learn vocabulary, and I suppose if they can do it 250 times, then 1400 seems plausible, too. What they don't seem to be able to do is use human like grammar, i.e. combining 2 words to mean something new. Mar 7, 2012 at 22:10
  • @MatthewMartin IIRC dolphins were shown to be able to comprehend simple grammar such as "bring [the] hoop [to the] frisbee" vs "bring [the] frisbee [to the] hoop" And Koko the gorilla supposedly invented neologisms -- "finger-bracelet" for a ring, etc. I don't think any animal has yet been shown to handle recursion, but I wouldn't bet against it... Mar 8, 2012 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


Is this true/possible?

Yes. An example of a dog with this talent is described at http://www.chaserthebordercollie.com/

Note that this dog has had expert training:

JOHN W. PILLEY is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He has been working with Chaser since 2004 and has published the findings from their work in the Journal Behavioural Processes.
The bond between Pilley & Yasha set the stage for his work and incredibly close relationship with Chaser, which came several years after Pilley's retirement. It has only been during these years that Pilley has slowed down enough to be able to log in significant hours to work with Chaser. His time was previously devoted to his family, students and personal passions of whitewater kayaking and windsurfing.

And an enriched/specialized environment:

enter image description here

(Photo taken from http://www.memphis.edu/update/feb11/pilley.php)

And, that this dog is a Border Collie:

The Border Collie is a herding dog breed developed in the Anglo-Scottish border region for herding livestock, especially sheep.
Ranked number one in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs and typically extremely energetic, acrobatic, smart and athletic, they frequently compete with great success in dog sports, in addition to their success in sheepdog trials, and are often cited as the most intelligent of all dogs.1 In January 2011, a Border Collie was reported to have learned 1,022 words, and acts consequently to human citation of those words.[2][3]

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