At left: Chaser the wonder dog, photo by Ken Osburn of The Greenville News.
Mr Daisy's late Uncle Cecil had the ability to train dogs to do all kinds of tricks. He liked to hunt, so he preferred hounds, especially beagles. One beagle had been his favorite, the smartest dog in the world, he said. There was a large painted portrait of the late beagle on his wall. "I loved that dog," he would say wistfully, showing the picture to visitors.
The best trick the dog did (I regret I can't remember the pooch's name) was pick up lettered blocks BY LETTER. Uncle Cecil would keep the blocks in a little bag, and then spread them out on the floor as the dog sat obediently and waited. He would scatter and arrange the lettered wooden blocks, and then, tell the dog to pick up the letter....B!
And the dog did.
Everyone was amazed.
Uncle Cecil would gather up the blocks in the bag and do it over and over, spilling the blocks onto the floor as the dog watched. He would spread the blocks out carefully again, then...F! (He changed the letter each time, which was the really incredible thing.)
And the dog picked up F.
There was never any rhyme or reason to the letters chosen; it was never the same letter every time. People couldn't believe a dog was so smart. They came from miles around to see Uncle Cecil's ultra-smart dog.
Can you guess the trick?
I thought of Uncle Cecil's dog when I heard about Chaser, the smartest dog in upstate South Carolina, maybe the world. He will be profiled on the PBS show NOVA (on February 9th), since he has learned 1000+ words, more than any dog on record. He has over 1000 toys, all with different names, and when he is asked to fetch them by name, he does.
Okay, Uncle Cecil made me skeptical, so I will have to watch NOVA and see if this is for real.
From the GREENVILLE NEWS:
It’s a scientific record.~*~
Chaser is top dog in the current issue of the scientific journal “Behavioural Processes,” as noted in the Christmas Day edition of “The New Scientist,” and will be featured in a Feb. 9 NOVA documentary on PBS television.
Soon after [retired Wofford College psychology professor John] Pilley brought Chaser home as an 8-week-old puppy, he read an article by German researchers about a border collie that could understand 200 words. Pilley took that as a challenge.
“Border collies, because of their history of listening to the master and keeping their eyes simultaneously on the herd, may be especially prepared to learn language,” Pilley said.
Pilley and Alliston Reid, a Wofford psychology professor, with the help of some students, began three years of research to gain new insight into the intellect of border collies.
“These dogs can understand,” Reid said. “If you own a dog, you know the dog has emotions and is an intelligent being.”
In controlled experiments, Chaser demonstrated that she could remember each of her 1,022 toys by name. With that number, the two psychologists — who had to write the name on each toy to remember them all — decided there probably was no upper limit to what Chaser could learn.
Here is the trick:
Uncle Cecil had no reason to put the blocks in a bag. Also, he would do the trick over and over, but only after putting the blocks in a bag and repeating the whole ritual. He never asked the dog to pick up two lettered blocks IN A ROW. Even so, no one ever guessed his secret.
He would carefully spread the blocks on the floor... and it was always the last block he touched.
Sometimes, Uncle Cecil would touch one just at the last second, almost as an "afterthought" to try and fool him, but the dog always did the trick correctly. He always knew which block he was supposed to pick up, but waited to be "told". Uncle Cecil would tell him to pick up the last one he touched (A! P! M!)--and only then, would he pick up the correct wooden block. The dog greatly enjoyed all the laughter, applause and attention, wagging his tail enthusiastically; he loved doing the blocks trick!
Nobody ever figured it out. Uncle Cecil did not tell the secret until after his beloved canine friend had passed on.
He said he could not bear to teach the trick to another dog.