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Which are smarter, cats or dogs?


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Interesting read:

Which are Smarter, Cats or Dogs?

By Martha Brockenbrough

In the cartoon world, dogs and cats are natural enemies. In that two-dimensional universe, cats are smarter than dogs. And the humans all have three fingers and a thumb.

You can't use the cartoon world to determine which are smarter, cats or dogs. In my house, which is inhabited by two cats and a dog, I would have to say that the dog is the smarter creature.

Even though she sometimes tries to walk through doors that are only open a crack, therefore shutting them on her head, my dog clearly demonstrates her superior intelligence by following me everywhere I go and generally making me feel like the center of the universe. That's a smart thing to do because it guarantees many treats and lots of affection.

The cats pretty much ignore me except when they're hungry. The male cat has, however, trained my husband to let him out every morning at the brutal hour of 5 AM, which means the cat--at least in some ways--is smarter than my husband.

I know my household is not a science lab. The intellectual pecking order we have established won't necessarily hold up against the rigors of scientific inquiry.

It's an important question, though, one that Cat People and Dog People have debated forever. If you're a Cat Person, you know that cats are smarter because they're independent and clean, and they have an uncanny sense of where they are and how to get home. If you're a Dog Person, you know that dogs are smarter because they're easier to train. In fact, dogs are so smart they sometimes even wear police badges and perform important jobs for people with disabilities, among other things.

Is one of our favorite pets smarter than the other? Can we finally put this question to rest? I think I have an answer. But we need to get a bunch of other stuff straight first.

What is intelligence?

You'd think defining intelligence would be easy. But it's not, not even with humans.

Early human intelligence tests, performed in the late 1800s, tried to link smarts with body proportions, reaction time, and sensitivity to smells, sounds, weights, and other stimuli. The problem was that the test results didn't correlate with how well a subject performed in school. In hindsight, it seems goofy to believe that someone with a good sense of smell would be smarter. But that just shows how difficult it has been to come up with a good way of measuring intelligence.

Later intelligence tests focused on practical knowledge, memory, reasoning, vocabulary, and problem solving. These tests turned out to be better predictors of academic success.

They still weren't perfect, however, because they focus mainly on how well someone will do in school--and that's only one arena for achievement. Think for a minute about the smartest people you know. What makes them smart? That they know a lot of words? That they're good at math? That they can fix toasters and program VCRs?

All of these things represent different types of intelligence. Some people might have some types of smarts, but lack others. And whether or not we recognize something as intelligence has a lot to do with what we value or what we're seeking.

For example, let's look at the old stereotype of the dumb athlete. (It's a lame stereotype, I know. There are plenty of people who display talent on playing fields and in the classroom.) But, just as there are people who do well in school but can't shoot a basket, there are others who are more successful on the sports field than in class. So why do we have the expression "dumb jock" but no counterpart for someone who is a nonathletic scholar? The term "nerd" comes close, but a nerd can be athletic. (I should know--I consider myself a nerd, yet I earned many varsity letters in high school.) The reason we have the dumb jock putdown is because in school, academic intelligence counts for more than athletic intelligence.

Similarly, in the cat and dog debate, people will generally define intelligence as what they value. Do they want a fastidious pet? Then a cat is probably going to seem "smarter," because cats--unlike dogs--do not roll around in dead fish and then come bounding in the house to show off their glorious odor. Or, perhaps they want a pet that obeys voice commands? Even though cats can be trained to use toilets (not just litter boxes), dogs are easier to train, and therefore will likely be considered more intelligent creatures.

In order to become less biased about measuring intelligence, we have to know more about how cats and dogs think.

How cats think

Some of my favorite reading about the world of the cat is by the late Roger Caras, who wrote more than five dozen books on animals and served as president of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He also hosted the Westminster Dog Show, so he can't be described as biased.

In A Cat is Watching, Caras says that cats and dogs are probably equally intelligent. (Other experts disagree with this, but I'll get to that later.)

Cats and humans have similar brains. They're so similar, in fact, that more cats have been used for neurological studies than any other animal. The big difference is that human brains have a neocortex and cat brains do not. The neocortex functions as our center for speech and memory associations. Apart from that, however, our more primitive underlying brain structures are just about the same.

Cats' brains are wired to be sensory, Caras writes. So what does that mean? Caras defines a sense as something that alerts a cat to changes in its environment--changes that will ideally be handled so that the cat comes out on top. They rely on whiskers and noses and other tools to feel and perceive the world around them. Most of all, they observe and respond.

Cats are almost mystical in their ability to perceive the world. You've probably heard the folk wisdom that cats always land on their feet, and that they always find their way home. Although "always" is a risky word to use, it is true that cats are graceful. Unlike seeing-eye dogs, cats can't lead a blind person across the street. But they often demonstrate an uncanny talent for navigation.

When I was about six years old, a black stray cat took a liking to our little gray cat, Cloudy. We called him The Yowl, because he would howl love songs outside our windows at night. After a litter of unplanned kittens arrived, my parents took The Yowl to some farmland 20 miles away, crossing a freeway to get there. And yet, a few weeks later, the cat came back. He kept coming back, even after we had Cloudy spayed.

So, how did The Yowl do this? Caras believes cats have sun-based direction finders--solar global positioning systems, if you will. And it's not just that they scan the horizon for the sun's angle--it's also possible, Caras writes, that cats are absorbing data that we can't absorb ourselves and therefore don't know to measure.

So, while some people would say, "If we can't measure it, it doesn't exist," I share Caras's fascination with the unknown. And if some cats are better at using this mysterious information than others, why couldn't that be a form of intelligence?

How dogs think

Probably the best-known expert on the intelligence of dogs is Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and the author of several books about dogs.

In The Intelligence of Dogs, Coren outlines three types of smarts that can be measured: instinctive, adaptive, and working. Instinctive intelligence describes what dogs are genetically designed to do. This is why some can herd sheep and others are good at retrieving tennis balls. Adaptive intelligence describes how well dogs can figure out what's going on around them--for example, how quickly they can find a hidden treat. Working intelligence describes how quickly they learn commands.

The book even contains instructions for measuring your dog's smarts. Even so, says Coren, the tests are biased against the dogs--they're only testing how well dogs understand us, not how well they understand each other.

Dogs, like humans, are social animals. They think in terms of how they relate to others. Domestic cats are not pack animals, which is why people laugh when someone trots out the old expression, "It was like herding cats!" This is also why many people, Coren included, make a strong case for dogs being smarter, paws down.

"The reason is very simple," he says. "If you have two animals that are roughly at the same evolutionary level and roughly the same [classification]--cats and dogs are both carnivores--the one that has the more complex social structure is almost always brighter."

Pack animals have to read signals and anticipate the effect of their actions. It's kind of like being a chess player. If you look at it in human developmental terms, a dog is about equivalent to a human two-year-old, which means it knows about 260 words or signals. The average cat, meanwhile, is more like an 18-month-old, which means it knows about 50 words. The more words a creature knows and the better it's able to communicate, the more it is apt to succeed in a social environment.

It's not that cats are too regal to perform tricks or obey commands, Coren says. It's that they don't understand how to do them. They just aren't able to learn language and read social cues as well as dogs.

Dogs, on the other hand, are champs at it. Maybe this is why dogs joined human families about 14,000 years ago, while cats were first domesticated 4,500 years ago. Dogs were quicker to figure out how to hop on board the human gravy train. In any case, this is why my dog always knows when she's going for a walk, even without my using the word--there's some signal I'm giving off without even knowing it.

This isn't to say that dogs are perfect at reading the body language of all species. In fact, in How to Speak Dog, Coren explains that this is one reason why cats and dogs often don't get along. A frightened or submissive dog will roll over, exposing its stomach. A cat, on the other hand, will roll on to its back when killing prey, or defending itself with its powerful hind legs. So, a dog might look at a cat on its back and think, "Hey. I won. Better go sniff and make peace." The cat, meanwhile, is thinking, "I'll disembowel Fifi if it's the last thing I do."

Despite this, dogs' skill at language and communication with humans has enabled them to not only be companions, but also to perform crucial jobs. In addition to helping police officers and people with disabilities, some dogs can even detect cancer with their noses.

Despite the pleasure they provide as pets and the rodents they dispatch for us, there's no evidence that cats can do anything like this. So, if intelligence is a measure of the complexity of a task an animal can perform, then dogs really do take first prize.

Someday, when we understand more of the things we can't measure, the answer to the Who's smarter? question might be different. Or maybe we'll just stop asking the question, because the important thing already is clear: Cats and dogs both think.

And until we're able to catch tennis balls in our mouths and kill mice with our bare hands, we should be impressed with them both.

All I know is that Molly, at 5 months, was opening doors in our house when she wanted to get into a room. It's pretty spooky how well her brain works.

And BTW, I think on some levels, dogs are more intelligent than a two-year old person, such as with their ability to assess threats from strangers, and to read people's body language in general.

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According to S. Coren, a neuropsychologist and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia as well as author of "The Intelligence of Dogs", there are three types of dog intelligence:

* Adaptive Intelligence (learning and problem-solving ability). This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.

* Instinctive Intelligence. This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.

* Working/Obedience Intelligence. This is breed dependent.

The top 10 Brightest Dogs?

1 Border Collie

2 Poodle

3 German Shepherd

4 Golden Retriever

5 Doberman Pinscher

6 Shetland Sheepdog

7 Labrador Retriever

8 Papillon

9 Rottweiler

10 Australian Cattle Dog

The top 10 Dumbest Dogs? (Okay, "Dumb" is my word.) In order of fairly dumb to absolute dumbest.

1. Shih Tzu

2. Basset Hound

3. Mastiff tied with Beagle

4. Pekingese

5. Bloodhound

6. Borzoi

7. Chow Chow

8. Bulldog

9. Basenji

And the winner is ....Afghan Hound

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Kurp, I have read many books about this subject and I will never believe any other breed is as smart as a GSD. Sure I am extremely biased on this subject but, I believe the facts speak for themselves. There are more GSD's used by humans as working dog's then ALL other breeds COMBINED. Think about that for awhile. ALL other breeds combined.

My buddy has 3 border collies and my dogs know 3x the number of commands that any of his collies know and listen too. I am seriously working on getting my female shep to get me a beer. She can open the king kong gate to my kitchen and open the fridge with the help of a pull toy I have on the handle. She can get the can out of the fridge but she usually drops it a few times and shakes it all up. I guess she has a hard time griping it without putting holes in the can. When I finally get her to bring it back to me without shaking it up I am going to film it for all to see.

My buddy would never be able to train those hyper active collies to do that. As for poodles, only the French use them as working dogs and that speaks for itself.;) :rotflmao:

I would put Labs and Goldens above both border collies and poodles based on there ability to be trained as working dogs. There is also a breed that closely resembles GSD's that are used in Europe as working dogs. I can't remeber there name now but I would put them high on the list too.

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Speaking of that beer can puncture thing, I have a friend, who's since moved to Atlanta, that has a golden who's figured out that by biting a can of beer he could get at the barley and hops contained within.

I can't tell you how many times we've lost beer at outdoor parties because we'd forget to close the lid of the cooler before Hobbes stuck his nose in and committed the deed. It was funny at first, but after awhile it got downright annoying.

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I've owned several different breeds of dog and have friends that have different breeds as well, but I've never come across any as smart or as loving as Springer Spaniels. They are not nearly as common as German Sheppards or Labs.

Regardless, I'm sure everyone has had similar experiences with their own preferred breed. Judging intelligence depends alot on what your basis for judgement is as well. Some people judge based on the dogs performance of "tricks" or basic obediance, others for speech recognition or unusual perception.

Mine are uncanny in "reading my mind" and understanding speech. They also tipped my wife and I off on the fact that she was pregnant. For two or three days, they constantly laid their heads on her stomach and were a little over protective if anyone got too close to my wife. My wife actually was getting aggrivated because they kept crowding her in bed or in our den watching TV. Finally my wife noticed how weird they were acting and took a pregnancy test and low and behold, she was pregnant....

Anyway, they are in many ways "people" to me. I would never consider them pets.

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Originally posted by TheKurp


Speaking of that beer can puncture thing, I have a friend, who's since moved to Atlanta, that has a golden who's figured out that by biting a can of beer he could get at the barley and hops contained within.

I can't tell you how many times we've lost beer at outdoor parties because we'd forget to close the lid of the cooler before Hobbes stuck his nose in and committed the deed. It was funny at first, but after awhile it got downright annoying.

My laugh for the day.

Somehow I can just envision a walking around a corner withe a golden laying on the ground passed out drunk with 12 beer cans laying around with little teeth marks in all of them.

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Die Hard,

Hobbes' owners had a going away party at their house when they left Orlando for Atlanta. Russ, being the proud owner, decided to entertain his company by demonstrating, over and over, this little beer can opening trick.

However, what goes hand-in-hand with consuming large quantities of beer, besides getting inebriated that is?

You guessed it. Russ neglected to let Hobbes outside so that the little life of the party could relieve himself. So while most of the people in attendance were preoccupied talking amongst themselves, Hobbes stood in the middle of the living room and proceeded to pee a river on their light beige carpet.

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Originally posted by TheKurp


Speaking of that beer can puncture thing, I have a friend, who's since moved to Atlanta, that has a golden who's figured out that by biting a can of beer he could get at the barley and hops contained within.

I can't tell you how many times we've lost beer at outdoor parties because we'd forget to close the lid of the cooler before Hobbes stuck his nose in and committed the deed. It was funny at first, but after awhile it got downright annoying.

My brothers dog is named Hobbes as well, hmmmm I smell a connection here

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I have a yellow lab named "Skins" who can do just like Tommy's dog. I have put a chew rag on the handle of the fridge and he knows what to do.

I have taught him to fetch me a soda which I make sure are on the bottom shelf by themselves (otherwise he gets himself a snack at the same time) and then closes the frdige door with his nose.

It is simply awesome! Now I need to teach him where the trash can is :D

So I vote for dogs because there is no cat that can pull that feat off.

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Originally posted by SkinsFan56

I have taught him to fetch me a soda which I make sure are on the bottom shelf by themselves (otherwise he gets himself a snack at the same time) and then closes the frdige door with his nose.

I want to teach a dog the same but instead of soda I will teach him to get beer :cheers:

How did you do that, curious minds want to know :D

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It really wasnt that hard. It takes alot of patience and alot of treats. Yes, I had to visually show him a few times how to do it but he picked it up rather quickly. The hardest part was getting him to close the door after he was done.

Just make sure the bottom of the fridge is cleaned out so that he doesnt get distracted.

As to getting the door open just grab his favorite chew rag or something he likes and tie it to the fridge handle and work on getting him to open the door. Just make sure you have plenty of treats on hand :D

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Tommy, is there a sleeve that you can put your beer cans in to protect them from puncture? Those insulating sleeves are cheap and would keep the beer colder anyway.

GSD's are great, but they sure aren't known for soft mouths!

BTW, is the Euro dog you're trying to think of one of the Belgian breeds, such as a Belgian Malinois or Belgian Sheepdog or Belgian Tervuren? The Malinois in particular is known as an excellent police dog. I've always thought the Tervuren was gorgeous, sort of a regal and slightly meaner version of the Collie.

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Yes it was the malinois. Thank you Redman.

And speaking of dogs. My male has started to do something I have never seen before. When my female urinates in the back yard. He runs over to smell it as any male dog would do to see when she is ripe for the picking, and then he pees exactly over hers. I guess he his laying claim to his prize and he doesn't want any other dog to get a true scent of the female. I have never seen this before. He started doing this a few weeks ago and now it is so funny. He does it every single time she goes in the back yard. And here is the catcher. When I walk her in the park alone she marks a few spots. Then I take the male and he knows exactly where she went and goes right over top of it. This park is a big park by the way. It is about 6-8 city blocks and the male doesn't miss a spot the female hit.:laugh: :rotflmao:

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This is what is known as over-marking. Basically what your male dog is doing is claiming the territory as his. The behavior is more common in males than females and the act is done to communicate to other dogs that they enter the territory at their own risk.

Since your female is a member of the pack, it's very unlikely that your male's "message" is intended for your female. Rather it's meant for any other dog that may enter your backyard.

This of course doesn't mean a fight will break out if another dog enters your male's territory. Your male may accept another dog and simply urinate over his spot should the visiting dog relieve himself in the "spoken for" territory. Now if the visiting dog urinates over your male's spot, well, then I'd be prepared for a stand-off of some sort.

My older female over-marks on just about every spot she finds when I take her for a walk in the neighborhood. My younger female never over-marks. I have never seen my older female submit to another dog while my younger female submits to every dog. This is not to say that my older female is aggressive. She's been in a handful of very brief scrapes with other dogs and most times it's been in response to another dog attempting to demonstrate dominance over her. The only other times (four I think) she's come to the defense of the younger female when a scuffle breaks out (usually over a toy).

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