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Summer 2018 Wofford Today
Chaser

Chaser connects with Anderson Cooper on ‘60 Minutes’

As Dr. John Pilley, Wofford professor emeritus of psychology, sat in the glass-encased anteroom of the racquetball courts in the college’s fitness center back in February talking to a CBS producer, Chaser the border collie sat close by with all her toys – waiting for her chance to play and show off her skills.

Then, a distinctive, and quite recognizable, gentleman – journalist and television personality Anderson Cooper – quietly slipped in. He barely spoke to the humans in the room, and they barely took notice of his presence. His focus was on Chaser, dubbed the smartest dog in the world for her ability to know the names of more than a thousand different toys, amazing scientists who are just beginning to study the brain of man’s best friend.

As he stepped into the room, Cooper didn’t pat her on the head and say, “Good girl,” walking past her to speak to the humans. No. He got down on the floor where the black-and-white Chaser was lying, stretched out on his stomach with his head right next to hers and sweetly patted her head – whispering as if they had a secret nobody else could know.

Now, their secret is out – so to speak.

Chaser and Pilley were featured on Sunday, Oct. 5, in a segment of “60 Minutes” with Cooper, which was filmed on campus and at Pilley’s Spartanburg home. (You can watch the entire segment here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/.)

After Cooper’s introduction to the segment, Chaser and Pilley are seen getting into the car to “go to Wofford,” Pilley – who sports a Wofford sweatshirt throughout the program – urges the dog he considers his child.

During the broadcast, Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, told Cooper he believes Chaser “is the most important dog in the history of modern scientific research. This is very serious science. We're not talking about stupid pet tricks where people have spent hours trying to just train a dog to do the same thing over and over,” Hare said. “What’s neat about what Chaser’s doing is Chaser is learning tons, literally thousands of new things by using the same ability that kids use when they learn lots of words.”

Back in February, during filming, Cooper had walked by incredulous Wofford students working out that Sunday morning in the fitness center – many quickly grabbing their cell phones to snap a quick photo or to tweet their sleepy-headed roommates, “Guess who I just saw on campus!” Some weren’t even sure they believed their own eyes – this national icon, with his broad smile and white hair. Was that really Anderson Cooper in his blue jeans, button-down collared shirt and black sweater? Was he really here, on Wofford’s campus? Amazing!

While Cooper enthusiastically posed for photographs with each and every student who asked during breaks from shooting with Chaser, the students knew they already had greeted the major star – Chaser. She’s an icon in her own right. She and Pilley, her owner, trainer and “Pop Pop,” are staples for early-morning workout sessions in the fitness center – Chaser taking her familiar blue ball to any student who will look her way – or not – begging for a quick game of catch, while the 85-year-old Pilley does his fitness routine on the exercise equipment.

Chaser quickly gained international scientific acclaim in 2011 for her ability to understand the names of 1,022 objects – her toys – after the publication of scientific research by Pilley and his Wofford colleague psychology professor Dr. Alliston Reid ’75 involving her was first published in the journal Behavioral Processes.

Pilley’s book “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words” was published in November 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It now also is available in paperback.

by Laura Hendrix Corbin