Which Species Has the Brains? Dogs or Cats?

The world can mostly be divided into two groups of humans: dog people and cat people. And when asked which species is the smarter of the two, our answer is probably dictated by nothing other than which animal we have a greater affection for.

Of course, there are many ways that cognition, aptitude, intelligence, or any other way you want to put it can be tested among domesticated and wild animals alike, and almost any species can and will outperform another based on which test they are given. In reality, almost any test of intelligence is really only going to measure an animal’s aptitude in a specific skill as needed throughout their species’ evolution. Dogs have a sense of smell superior to our own, for example, but then again, pigs may have an even stronger sense of smell than them. And according to authors Stephen E. G. Lea and Britta Osthaus, dogs aren’t exactly “geniuses,” or at least exceptionally intelligent when compared to some species when it comes to their communication skills with people. Can dogs learn and be aware of hand signals and auditory cues from humans? Yes, but as the authors pointed out, this is in no way unique to the species. “The reigning champions of the ability to follow human hand signals are the bottlenose dolphin and the grey seal,” the authors said. In fact, the research pointed out that “social cognition” is the domain we actually have the greatest amount of information on when it comes to dogs and their intelligence. “Dogs perform as well as or better than other domestic animals on social learning tests. As regards tests inspired by theory-of-mind considerations (perspective taking, deception, and empathy), we have too little comparative data to draw any conclusions. In experiments carried out so far, chimpanzees are more likely than dogs to solve tasks requiring perspective-taking, though the evidence base for dogs’ perspective-taking is improving, and dogs may do better than chimpanzees in cooperative situations.“

“Dog cognition may not be exceptional, but dogs are certainly exceptional cognitive research subjects,” they wrote. “Our knowledge of nonhumans’ understanding of pointing, gaze, and other human signals has been greatly expanded through studies on dogs. There are several fields of cognition—empathy, for example—where almost our only nonprimate evidence comes from dogs, and the number of these seems likely to grow because the cooperativeness of dogs means that more complex research designs can be carried through than could be contemplated with less obliging subjects (e.g., cats). And although dogs may not be typical carnivorans, or typical social hunters, or typical domestic animals, what we know about cognition in all those groups consists to a substantial extent of what we know about dog cognition.”



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