Are cats or dogs smarter?

Cat and dog owners often make assumptions about their four-footed companions' intelligence. We all imagine that our Fido and Felix are the most intelligent animals ever to catch or chase a ball. Can we end the age-old argument? Which is smarter, cats or dogs?
It turns out that the answer is not as simple as pet owners might think.

"Dog-cognition researchers don't study intelligence per se; they look at different aspects of cognition," Alexandra Horowitz (a senior research fellow at Barnard College in New York) told Live Science via email. She is a specialist in dog cognition and author of "Inside of a Dog" (Scribner 2010, 2010).

Related: Why are dogs and cats so fast?

Horowitz actually questions the human tendency to compare intelligence between species.

She said that cats are smart in the simplest forms, while dogs are smart at doing dog things. "It doesn't make sense to talk about relative intelligences of species.

Brian Hare, Duke University's professor of evolutionary Anthropology, agrees with this assessment.

He said in an email that asking whether a dog or cat is smarter is like asking if a hammer works better than a screwdriver. It all depends on its purpose." Live Science was informed by him.

However, this does not mean that animal behavior researchers haven’t attempted to measure cat and dog intelligence, or more specifically, cognitive abilities beyond what is necessary to sustain life.

Kristyn Vitale is an assistant professor at Unity College in Maine. She said that animal intelligence can be divided into three main areas: problem-solving ability and concept formation (the ability form general concepts from concrete experiences).

Vitale is primarily a cat researcher. Her current research focuses on social intelligence and the inner lives of cats. She revealed that cats are often stereotyped as being aloof and uninterested in people in an email to Live Science.

Studies have shown that cats can differentiate between names and similar-sounding words. They also prefer human interaction over food, toys, and smells. Cats respond to human attention: A 2019 study published by the journal Behavioural processes found that cats spend more time with people who pay attention to them.

Researchers found no difference in the ability of cats and dogs to locate hidden food by using cues from humans' pointing. This was a rare study. Researchers noted, however that cats were less attentive than dogs in certain areas. The researchers found that cats lacked some components of attention-getting behavior in comparison to dogs.

Related: What are the memories of cats and dogs?

Different intelligence levels are displayed by cats and dogs. (Image credit to Jessica Harms via Getty Images

Brain size is another important factor. One common belief is that brain size determines relative intelligence. If that were true, then dogs would prevail.

Hare stated that he and University of Arizona Anthropologist Evan MacLean gathered more than 50 researchers from around the globe to test a test they had developed for 550 species of animals, including birds, apes monkeys, dogs and lemurs.

One cognitive trait, which researchers call "inhibitory controls," was tested across species. The animal version of the 1972 Stanford University study, in which children aged 3 and 5 were tested on their ability delay eating marshmallows, was the subject of the 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.

Hare stated that the cross-species study revealed that animals with larger brains showed greater self-control in the animal marshmallow test. Higher cognitive function is indicated by the ability to exercise self control.

There is one problem: Cats were not included in the test. We can speculate about how they might have performed based upon their brain size but we don't know.

Vitale stated that another thing to remember when performing this type of intelligence assessment is the fact that dogs and cats may be treated differently.

She said that dogs often have good socialization and are able to ride in cars, attend puppy classes and visit the dog park. "Cat owners don't give their cats as many opportunities for socialization and training."

Who wins in the end? It is possible to take the time to appreciate your pet’s unique intelligence, particularly their social intelligence which makes them wonderful companions.

Original publication on Live Science