Book Review: Chaser, Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows 1000 Words #Chaser1000



Copyright 2013 by John Pilley


236 pages

Available 10/29/13




Since I love to read books, especially about dogs, I was excited to be given the opportunity from BlogPaws to read and review this book.  I vaguely remember hearing about Chaser previously…she was in the news quite a bit a couple of years ago.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with the book, to be honest, and I thought it might be a lot about the science of learning for dogs; John Pilley is a professor of psychology, so it seemed likely.  Science was my worst subject in high school, and I’ve read some books about dog behavior and training that were very scientific, and frankly, I couldn’t finish them.  My eyes tend to glaze over when things get scientific.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I started this book to find out that it was more a story of a man and his family, and their love of dogs.  Sure, there’s some science in there, there has to be, but it is kept to layman’s terms that even I can easily comprehend.

The book begins with some background on the author’s family and their history with dogs.  That part of the story is important as it leads up to how Chaser came into their lives.  It became extremely obvious from the beginning that the author and his family have a deep love for dogs.  His devastation at losing one very special dog in his life is very touching and a familiar feeling to all of us who have lost dogs of our own.  He explains it very well in this quote: “The relatively short life spans of our pets cause us a lot of grief, but they also ground us in a natural cycle of life and death and, if we can accept it, renewal.  The spirit of our relationship with one pet lives on in and shapes the spirit of our relationship with another pet, even years later.”

The author is retired when his wife brings Chaser into his life, and he dedicates his time to continuing his work with dogs and learning that he had started as a professor with his previous dogs and other family dogs.  He knows that Chaser has the capability and the time he spends with her leads her to learning over 1000 words (1022 to be exact), and he goes beyond that to teach her an even deeper understanding of language and other behaviors. Not only does she know all those words, but she can pick a toy that she hasn’t learned the name of out of a group of toys she does know the name of, by reasoning!  He believes and demonstrates that a dog’s capability of learning is tied closely to its ability to emotionally connect with people.

I learned a lot about dog training and about the intelligence and instincts of border collies from this book.  There is something we can all take away and use for teaching our own dogs. It has inspired me to try and teach my dogs more!  It surprised me that treats were not used as a reward in Chaser’s training, but play time with the toy she had selected by its name is her reward.  Her toys are her “flock” and her training with these toys satisfies her instinct to herd (though she does also sometimes get the opportunity to actually herd sheep).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I believe that any dog lover will, and I highly recommend it.   It is the story of Chaser’s learning, but it is also the story of a man and his family who love that dog completely.  “The journey with Chaser always has the same number one priority: fun.  Sally (his wife) and I find fun with her every day, a routine that never becomes stale.”

About the author, from the book cover:  “John W. Pilley is an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College.  He has been working with Chaser since 2004 and has published the findings from their work in the journal Behavioral Processes.  He lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina.”

You can find out more and purchase this book through this link.  You can also find Chaser on Facebook and TwitterBlogPaws will be holding a Twitter chat on October 22nd, and if you join in you have the opportunity to win a copy of the book!  #BlogPawsChat.

*Disclaimer:  I received an advance copy of this book through BlogPaws, and I am being compensated to share my thoughts on it.  However, all opinions are honest and are my own.  I only share information that I feel will be of interest to my readers.




  1. says

    Sounds like a good book. People always ask us if we use treats in our field training. But we don’t, like the author, we just use the retrieve. It is the love of the retrieve that makes them learn.

    Thanks for the great review.

    • says

      Thank you for reading it! I always thought treats were the reward of choice, other than just praise….it’s really good to know that the play or the retrieve can do the same thing.

    • says

      I am going to head over and read your review too, Sugar. He really did a great job training her, I doubt I would ever have the patience to do that well!

  2. says

    Wow, that’s a lot of words! I’m going to ask my Mum to get this book as from your review I think she’d really like it and I could expand my already impressive vocabulary! Tee Hee

    Hope you’re having a fun day :)

    Your pal Snoopy :)

  3. says

    love your review! i also participated in the campaign and loved the book as well. i agree that it wasn’t too science-y and the author and his family’s love for chaser (and all of their dogs) is so clear and makes the work relatable.
    — jackie @ jade and oak

    • says

      Thank you! I didn’t really expect to relate to the book – my dogs are not that well trained, lol! I didn’t even realize that Chaser was a part of the family that trained her, I thought the book would be by a dog trainer! So it really was a pleasant surprise.

    • says

      She is pretty awesome, isn’t she, Emma? There are more videos on YouTube of her….probably what you saw on TV, and I still have more to watch.

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