Posted On: Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
By Dr. R.J. Peters
The debate rages on…which is smarter, cats or dogs? It’s not that simple to answer, because it’s not really about only one kind of intelligence. Cats and dogs operate from completely different perspectives as they view the world in which they live and play, and sometimes work.
So, to compare a dog with a cat is to not ask the right question. One must consider each animal within the confines of its particular and specific environment based on breed, background and current situation. It’s difficult enough to compare breeds, but different species?
A cat may have an instinct that drives it to hide under things when sensing danger, while some dogs may become aggressive when sensing exactly the same perceived danger. For example, a cat may dive under a porch or the sofa when a strange person shows up, but a dog may either approach the new person with an invitation to play, or with a growl as a warning.
Dogs are bigger, or may think they are, and may feel comfortable, or driven, to move toward a potential danger. A cat, on the other hand, knows it’s small and vulnerable to larger beings who are physically capable of killing it. So, hiding is the better strategy.
Either approach can be thought of as intelligent, given the circumstances, instincts of the animal, and their obvious knowledge of what they need in order to survive another day.
Now, when you bring training into the picture, dogs are more easily trained by most people, but only because it’s a more familiar thing for people to do. It does not necessarily mean that dogs are smarter. The dog has been domesticated for a few thousand years longer than the cat. Thus, the difference in intelligence may be related more to the human factor than to the animal. Certainly, many cats have demonstrated they can be taught to perform many of the same tricks as dogs. It’s just not seen as commonly because humans who wish to train them must be on a cat’s wave length, not a dog’s.
If one considers the ability of each animal to initiate a purposeful action, such as alerting owners to a threat, like fire, smoke or intrusion, stories abound in the news about cats and dogs who saved an owner’s life. They just do these things in their own ways. A cat may tap his owner’s face with a paw to wake up and get out, and a dog may simply bark. The end result will be the same, but only if the owner can recognize the signal and act appropriately.
If we want to get technical, perhaps it is we who need to be analyzed for intelligence and how we interact with another species!
For more insights on how cats look at the world, visit this page on Feline Behavior.