Finally, science backs up what we all know: Dogs are smarter than cats.
The study looked at the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of carnivores, including dogs and cats. According to “Research News @Vanderbilt” writer David Salisbury, these are associated with thinking, planning, and complex behavior — “hallmarks of intelligence.” He quotes the study’s author as stating that the findings mean that dogs “have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.”
My favorite line in the study‘s abstract: “We find that the golden retriever dog has more cortical neurons than the striped hyena, African lion and even brown bear, even though the latter species have up to 3 times larger cortices than dogs.” Cali, Jana, and I have always known that golden retrievers are superior beings; still, it’s nice to have evidence.
The study also found no apparent effect on neuron number from domestication. The researchers found that the domesticated dogs and cats did not have smaller brains for their body size than their wild relatives. It also found that larger carnivores, such as bears, have fewer cortical neurons relative to their brain size and that carnivores do not pack greater brain power than their prey.
I like this study because it doesn’t take something irrelevant to one or all species tested and attempt to make a comparison. Dogs’ brains are different in lots of ways from wolves’ brains because dogs’ lives and needs are different in so many ways. For instance, another recent study looked at the ways dogs and wolves collaborate. Wolves were better able to solve a problem that required cooperation to get food. That makes sense. Wolf packs hunt together — or starve. Dogs train their humans to dump food into the bowl at the same time every day and, with varying degrees of success, to hand out snacks at other times of the day. Other studies try to compare the intelligence of dogs and wolves, dogs and chimps, different breeds of dogs … you name it. But too often, they use yardsticks that don’t reflect the ways dogs use their considerable intelligence.
Knowing that dogs have more of the thinking and planning cells than cats makes sense if you look at the different ways dogs relate to people. Thinking, planning, problem solving, and other complex behaviors are the basis of the many ways that dogs and humans work together. While cats may be equally adept at getting humans to take care of them, most cat-person partnerships begin and end there. Canines are more social than felines, and domestic dogs have turned their focus from pack hunting and social living to myriad other tasks, to the great delight of humans everywhere.
You (and your dog) might want to be careful, though, if you live near any raccoons. Raccoons were the brainiest carnivores studied, having the same number of cortical neurons as a dog —packed into a cat-sized brain. Who knows what they are planning!