Intelligence in dogs can be subjective because of the different jobs they were bred to do. The Bloodhound ranks at the bottom of the intelligence list, but that doesn't mean he's dumb. When it comes to finding a scent and following it, there's no other breed that can top the tracking ability of the Bloodhound. Dogs and cats have different innate skills that set them apart from each other, too. According to scientists, there is a difference in their level of intelligence. But does that mean one species is really smarter than the other?
I'm not a fan of labels, like smartest or dumbest, to describe animals or people. Everyone is good at something, and we develop needed skills that allow us to be successful. A science whiz can carefully analyze statistics from a study, but may freeze in fear when presenting it to a group of peers. A chef can create an exquisite meal that melts in your mouth, but can't fix the broken freezer in his kitchen. Cats and dogs use smarts they were born with as well as learned intelligence to process information they need to survive.
Cats do have smaller brains than dogs, but a smaller brain doesn't necessarily translate into being “not as smart.” If you've ever watched a cat stalking a mouse, you see a disciplined and patient hunter that knows the exact moment to attack. The cat may not realize the mouse is food, but instinctively understands the process required to be an efficient hunter. A dog is more apt to race around chasing the poor mouse until it collapses from exhaustion.
The danger to cats is when people believe felines are such good hunters that they can take care of themselves. Kittens that were never taught by their mother to hunt, kill and eat are capable of catching prey, but won't learn an important life lesson of survival. Lost cats have to learn that lesson on their own if they are going to survive.
Neurons are a type of cell in the body that transmits information. Cats have 300 million neurons and dogs have 160 million, which means felines have the ability to process information much better than dogs. Many people don't give cats fair credit when it comes to intelligence. They are solitary creatures by nature, but aloofness has nothing to do with being smart. Their attitude is “what's in it for me,” and a desire to please is permanently on the back burner. Although with the right motivation, cats are just as capable of learning commands and tricks as dogs. Some cats will jump through hoops for their FELIDAE TidNips™ treats and some learn how to run an agility course – the kitty version. Felines also know how to manipulate their owner to get what they want. They are, after all, experts in the art of training us!
The brains of dogs have grown steadily over the years, but there's been no change in the feline brain since they were domesticated 8,000 years ago. However, the reason a dog's brain has increased in size is because the more social an animal is, the bigger the brain size. Plus, larger animals need a bigger brain to process sensory information because of the body size. Canines have been bred to do different jobs that help us. Because they are social, they have a willingness to please and can be taught different skills that benefit mankind. We are still discovering new ways dogs can assist us.
Dogs listen to our words, and learn what certain ones mean. Canines are also experts at reading body language, listening to our tone of voice, and knowing what kind of mood we're in just by looking at our face (called Left Gaze Bias). They know if we are being fair or if another dog gets more treats, and they respond to our emotions. Cats know when the one they love is upset and needs some tender loving purrs to make things better.
Both species can problem solve and learn just by watching one another. Over the years, I've had cats and dogs who learned on their own how to open doors. One of my cats enjoyed watching TV and figured out how to turn it on. When I got home, he would be sitting on the floor right in front of the screen. A cat's curiosity may get them into trouble now and then, but their cautious and inquisitive nature is a sign of their intelligence.
When it comes to which one is smarter, both dogs and cats have the right amount of intelligence to do what they do best: bond with their human companions and give us unconditional love that lasts a lifetime.
Top photo by Pete Markham
Bottom photo by Jason McDowell
Read more articles by Linda Cole