Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents
Four experiments investigated the ability of a border collie (Chaser) to acquire receptive language skills. Experiment 1 demonstrated that Chaser learned and retained, over a 3-year period of intensive training, the proper-noun names of 1022 objects. Experiment 2 presented random pair-wise combinations of three commands and three names, and demonstrated that she understood the separate meanings of proper-noun names and commands. Chaser understood that names refer to objects, independent of the behavior directed toward those objects. Experiment 3 demonstrated Chaser's ability to learn three common nouns – words that represent categories. Chaser demonstrated one-to-many (common noun) and many-to-one (multiple-name) name–object mappings. Experiment 4 demonstrated Chaser's ability to learn words by inferential reasoning by exclusion – inferring the name of an object based on its novelty among familiar objects that already had names. Together, these studies indicate that Chaser acquired referential understanding of nouns, an ability normally attributed to children, which included: (a) awareness that words may refer to objects, (b) awareness of verbal cues that map words upon the object referent, and (c) awareness that names may refer to unique objects or categories of objects, independent of the behaviors directed toward those objects.