The owner of the world’s smartest dog is a Psychology Ph.D. degree holder. He used that access to academic scientific research, so as to study his own dog breed through Chaser, his border collie pet.
While researching this specific type of dog pedigree (bred exclusively to round up sheep), he noticed an additional thing. These types of canines eventually get to know a sheep by its name. He discovered that ‘quirk’ when observing shepherds getting the dogs to single out specific animals without pointing them.
Chaser’s owner extrapolated that thought as his hypothesis for testing regular objects on collies, not just sheep. While we’re used to having a dog be trained for behavioral stimuli, he tried something else. Instead of conditioning the animal to perform an action (e.g, lay down, sit), “match to sample” was used.
This method would have the dog be taught an object’s name, instead of commands around the object. The way it goes, two objects would be laid in front of the animal. Another one of the same, of one of the items still laying in front of the pooch, would then be used for doggie to ‘get’ the two object’s similarity.
By drawing a connection between the items, the animal starts to get the object-word connection as well. It also seems, once you see it in action, that the test border collies were thinking about the item, not just reacting instinctively.
But “match to sample” proved complex. This method usually required hundreds of tries. He then decided to start with verbs as behavioral teaching methods. Also, by making sure that words to be learned would already have valued by Chaser.
In the case of border collies, hunting is in their genetic instinct. Whether is finding, herding, attacking, or killing prey; whatever reinforces any & all of those, it’s reinforcing of the innate kind. Regardless of how smart Chaser may be, it can’t learn anything you may throw at it (no pun intended!).
But ‘find’, while being more complex to learn than ‘sit’, is already part of Chaser’s breeding epigenetics. Chaser finds value in finding something. That means the reward mechanism of giving food to reinforce an action isn’t needed. The task itself is enough to fulfill the border collie.
Find out next how Chaser got to learn well over a thousand words.