Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Are cats smarter than dogs?

Anyone with half a brain who hasn't been living under a rock probably feels as if the bulk of humanity is completely retarded. (Apologies for people who take offense to the use of that term. Call me a moron if that makes you feel better. There. Wasn't that cathartic?) The vast majority of us are no better in intelligence than cattle ripe for slaughter, aimlessly wandering through life with no goal or purpose, other than being a consumer and a tax payer, and whose greatest contribution of all is to comprise lower-end breeding stock for the spread of our genes.

Still, human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. We, simple apes, have almost completely conquered this planet. We have sent men to the moon and brought them back. We have built MRI machines, Android smartphones, the Internet, and the atomic bomb. We have figured out the sub atomic structure of protons, and the sequencing of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. We are brilliant.

Even the most stupid, tv-dinner eating illiterate member of the human race is a lot more intelligent than any other animal on Earth. Why is that? The secret is that our intelligence, though sometimes limited, is our big advantage. We are a very, very successful species thanks to our highly evolved cognitive abilities.

Dogs are believed by many people to be more intelligent than cats: when a toy is pulled by a string, the dog understands that the human is initiating the movement. A cat only focuses on the toy and does not understand the concept of an object acting upon another one.

But sometimes I wonder if cats are not smarter. A cat won't poop on the floor. A cat won't eat his own poop.  A cat won't eat his own vomit.

What is intelligence?

I define it as having a few basic components:

-Memory (both long-term and short-term)
-Pattern recognition ability (ability to match current observations with stored memories)
-Ability to anticipate future consequences

Both cats and dogs exhibit these components of intelligence.

MEMORY:

While cats can remember the location of their litter box and that it is where they need to go to relieve themselves, dogs can remember the meaning of words and commands. Cats, being solitary hunters, never evolved an ability to take instruction from a leader, something that wild wolves (and their domestic counterparts) do all the time. Dogs are not necessarily smarter than cats in that respect, they simply have a hard-wired capacity for understanding more complex language, which is crucial for survival within a pack, and for coordinated hunting.

Both cats and dogs can recognize their owner's scent, voice and face, and can remember the layout of a yard or a house. They can remember where food is stored.

PATTERN RECOGNITION ABILITY:

Both cats and dogs are able to recognize changes in their owners routines. Dogs cat tell if their master is getting ready to leave alone, or getting ready to take them with him.

Cats can recognize the erratic movements of injured prey, which is why they are so fascinated by strings and tie-wraps, which move in the same manner.

ABILITY TO ANTICIPATE FUTURE CONSEQUENCES:

Dogs know not to cross the invisible fence line. They know they will get shocked if they do. Dogs know that if  they obey every command their master gives them, they will be rewarded by a treat. Dogs know that if they whine and whine and whine they will get their masters to spoil them.

My cats know that if I feed them, I will not feed them again until the next meal, and don't bother begging for more. So they designed a clever stratagem to get the second serving they crave: They wait for my significant other to come home and they they go to her to beg, acting as if I hadn't fed them yet. I can't help but feel as if there is some sort of reasoning at work here.

So in the end, it's not necessarily a simple black-and-white matter of who is smarter than whom, but rather, a matter of who is more adapted for a specific function or situation. Dogs only seem more intelligent than cats because of their learning skills and social skills, but never underestimate a cat. They are sneaky and will surprise you.

2 comments:

  1. I think it's also important to ask, "Smart for what purpose?" For example, dogs are better at problem solving that are domestic dogs, yet worse at learning from humans. In line with this, my schnauzer can follow my finger when it points to his toy, but my blue heeler (who is nearer to the wild state) is unable to do so.

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  2. Pet theology:

    Your dog sees that you are bigger than him, that you dispense food to him, that you give him treats, that you massage him and speak to him in a comforting voice, that you let him in and out of the house when it is inconvenient for you to do so. This is proof to the dog that you are God.

    Meanwhile, your cat sees that you are bigger than him, that you dispense food to him, that you give him treats, that you massage him and speak to him in a comforting voice, that you will get up to let him in and out of the house when it is inconvenient for you to do so. This is proof to the cat that he is God.

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