Most people have lived with a pet, be it a dog, a cat or something else, and we have often been surprised by their behavior.
But which ones are the smartest? Let’s see if cats or dogs are smarter and their biological explanation.
Which are smarter, cats or dogs?
Society is divided between cat lovers and dog lovers, with the exclusion of a small portion of the population who love these animals the same or dislike them either. Often, between them, discussions arise as to whether cats or dogs are smarter. But what is the truth about this problem?
The truth is, advancing the conclusion of the explanations that we will see below, dogs are smarter than cats, in general terms. A lot of people (cat lovers) will definitely disagree with this statement, but let’s carefully explore the basics behind it.
In the following points, we will deepen the brain structures of these two species, the different types of intelligence that have been evaluated and the curious experiments that have been carried out to be able to measure them appropriately, adapting to the characteristics of these subjects. study.
The brains of dogs and cats
By ignoring the obvious differences between breeds and taking average sizes as a benchmark, the brain of the goose is much larger than that of the cat. In fact, we would speak of a difference of more than double, because the cerebral cortex of the goose is made up of approximately 530 million neurons, for the 250 which make up that of cats.
Why this huge difference? Some studies relate it to a characteristic of dogs that is not present in felines: sociability. While cats prefer a solitary life, with occasional interactions with fellow humans and humans, dogs need continuous contact, just like the gregarious animals that they are.
In reality, a dog that does not have the right social stimulation can develop pathologies and conduct disorders, because you are deprived of an element necessary for your development and your daily life.
This socialization requires more developed brain structures and is seen not only in dogs, but in other species such as dolphins, elephants, horses or monkeys. In contrast, animals that do not live in community, such as rhinos or deer, such as cats, have not experienced this brain growth in the evolutionary history of the species.
Experiments with dogs
There are countless studies conducted to measure the intelligence of dogs in one way or another. Let’s see some of the more interesting.
1. Distinction of stimuli
In one experiment, he placed the goose in a room where there were toys (What he did not know before) and other everyday objects that can be found in a house, such as books. He was then ordered to bring the toy or bring the non-toy, and the success rate was extraordinary.
This test even worked without the words and simply showing the animal a copy of the item we wanted them to give us.
2. Proxy learning
Another study showed that dogs are able to learn by imitation, a relatively complex method which requires brain structures (mirror neurons) that not all animals have.
In this case, some dogs learned to open a door, showing them how it was done and reinforcing it when they got it. A control group was established to which the door opening procedure was not previously shown. The result was clear: those who had seen the human open it, learned much faster.
3. Discern mental states
A very special test was to put the dog in the position of having to ask for food from one of the two researchers in the room, one of whom was blindfolded. In all cases, they preferred to go to those with whom they could make eye contact as a means of communication.
To go further, another experiment was carried out in which a man kept a series of objects in boxes, locked them up and then hid these keys. Then another person came in and out, trying to open the boxes, and it was the dog who brought him the hidden keys so that he could do it.
But the best came when the dynamics of the experiment changed and this second seeker was present when the first saved the objects. In this case, the dog was not trying to take him to where the keys were, because he knew he had seen how they hid them. In other words: they knew the human knew it, which is a mental process that demonstrates great intelligence.
Another of the situations that was observed in the lab was to expose the dog to two situations, one in which a person simply sings or speaks in a neutral manner, and another in which he pretends to cry. Animals always decided to approach the person who was crying earlier than the other. They knew how to interpret this person needed help.
Experiments with cats
It is true that historically cats have not aroused the same interest as dogs in experiments who measure their capacities, perhaps because of the ease and docility of the former in exposing them to very varied situations and of the difficulty of the latter in participating in strange processes, far from the place of reference which is their home.
However, in recent years some researchers have attempted to explore this area, so if we have an example that allows us to compare whether cats or dogs are smarter.
1. Point out
One of the tests that has been carried out in a controlled manner is to check if a cat is able to interpret the human gesture of pointing. What if, these domestic cats are able to interpret what object or where we were referring when we pointed our finger towards him.
While this might sound like very basic behavior, it’s not so much. It is a good indicator of social intelligence and the interpretation of intentionality, and not all species are able to do this, not even some as extremely close to us as chimpanzees.
2. Social interaction
Another experiment was to put the cats in a room where they had toys and food available on one side and people on the other. A higher percentage of felines preferred social interaction with them before heading for food or play items..
3. Mental state of the owner
In another curious test, the cat and its owner were in a room and investigators hooked up a fan that made a loud noise. The cat’s reaction, of course, was to take refuge with his reference person. The key to the experience was that the person should speak to the cat in a positive tone., To interpret that the situation was not dangerous and that the fan was not a harmful element.
In doing so, the cats would end up approaching and stretching without a hitch. We deduce that the felines had interpreted the mental state of the owner, attributing that if he was calm, it was because there was no harmful element in the environment allowing to be on his guards.
4. Recognize their name
A common question is whether your cats really recognize their name, Because in many occasions they do not respond when called upon.
This test was performed under laboratory conditions to clarify doubts once and for all and it has been shown that yes, they recognize their name, so if at any time you call your cat and it doesn’t respond, no that means it doesn’t. You know you call him, it’s just that he doesn’t want to go where you are.
After learning a small sample of all the tests in which these two animal species have participated, we are able to resume the answer to the question of whether cats or dogs are smarter.
Dogs have been shown to be capable of more complex skills, which require greater neural plasticity and more evolved brain structures, and we have seen that this is linked to greater socialization.
Be careful, this doesn’t mean that cats aren’t intelligent, as they are, and a lot. And they are also extremely adept at very complex physical behaviors. But when it comes to situations that require greater mental complexity, dogs come out the winners.
- Jardim-Messeder, D., Lambert, K., Noctor, S., Pestana, M., de Castro, ME, Bertelsen, MF, Alagarrii, AN, Mohammad, OB, Manger, PR, Herculano-Houzel, S. ( 2017). Dogs have most of the neurons, although it is not the largest brain: compensation between body mass and the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivorous species. Frontiers in neuroanatomy.
- Shultz, S., Dunbar, R. (2010). Encephalization is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals, but is associated with sociality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Vitale, KR, Udell, MAR (2015). What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of the cognitive research of the cat (Felis silvestris catus) on the past, present and future. Animal cognition. Springer.
- Vitale, KR, Udell, MAR (2019). The quality of being sociable: the influence of human attention status, population and human familiarity on the sociability of domestic cats. Behavioral processes. Elsevier.