Cat Smarts Versus Dog Smarts: Who Wins?

Comparing cat intelligence to dog intelligence is like comparing solitary apples to pack oranges.

Comparing cat intelligence to dog intelligence is like comparing solitary apples to pack oranges.

I’ve seen this debate fought over and over again: which is smarter, cats or dogs? There have even been several scientific studies adding to the debate. But really, I look at cats and dogs and I see two intelligent beings with completely different ways of thinking and viewing the world around them.

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Dogs are pack animals that thrive on human interaction. Much of their behavior is centered on pleasing the humans in their lives. These social creatures will learn tricks and commands because it so clearly makes their people happy. They are capable of solving problems if they think the solution will bring them closer to those they love. Whenever my fiancé goes out of town for an extended period of time (he’s a touring musician), his dog, Sushi – a German shepherd-border collie mix – tries to escape from our yard so she can search for him. I’ve tried different ways of securing the gate by the side of the house – and each time, she has figured out a workaround. Keeping one step ahead of her is a challenge.


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Cats, on the other hand, are solitary creatures, and they aren’t people pleasers (to put it mildly). They are independent thinkers and aren’t motivated to learn tricks just to make people happy. They are loving, loyal pets, and with their confident attitude, they don’t feel the need to prove anything. They will learn tricks if properly rewarded, and they will figure out problems if they think they will benefit from the solution. I’ve taught Binga how to jump through a hoop for treats. Binga also always seems to know which cabinets contain the treats, and she is very good about learning how to break into them! Keeping one step ahead of her is a challenge! (Incidentally, Binga and Sushi are the best of friends.)

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It’s pointless for people to compare dog intelligence and cat intelligence. The skills, attitude and smarts it takes to be a cat are completely different from those a dog needs. Each of them wants to be understood from a different point of view and approached in a different way. To bond with a dog, you take walks with her, toss her a ball to chase, and give her lots of physical and verbal expressions of love. To bond with a cat, you sit silently together, play stalking games, and let him come to you for petting and affection. If you treat dogs and cats the same, you aren’t getting the most out of your relationships with them. This is one case where “separate but equal” really works.

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