With half as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats—and half the attitude, dogs are often taken to be the less intelligent domestic partner. while dogs drink out of the toilet, slavishly follow their masters and need a chaperone to relieve themselves, cats hunt self-sufficiently and survey their empire with a regal gaze.
But cats beware. Research in recent years has finally revealed the genius of dogs.
Dogs are language-trained animals and can learn to respond to hundreds of spoken signals, and the names of hundreds of different objects. Of the many dogs who have chosen to live with me, several stand out as more easily trained, but I haven’t a doubt that given more time and patience with the laggards, most of them would have risen to the occasion. Charlie, our Jack Russell Terrier, is a quick study, and though the movie industry has not been knocking on our door to hire him, I am satisfied with the various chores he performs around the house when asked.
Based on the ability of cats to hold a grudge, you might think that they have better memories than dogs. Not so. According to the study by Slyvain Fiset of Canada’s University of Moncton. Still dog owners should not be too smug. In 2010, Krista Macpherson and William Roberts of the University of Western Ontario published a study that tested navigational memory, in which dogs had to search for food in a maze with eight arms radiating out from a central position. Even the rats beat the dogs out in the test. But when food was placed on the opposite side of a fence, and a human was seen rounding the end of the fence, dogs could easily solve the problem.
This is the secret to the genius of dogs: it’s when dogs join forces with us that they become special. Nowhere is this clearer than when dogs are reading our gestures. Every dog owner has helped her dog find a lost ball or treat by pointing in the right direction.No other animal—not even our closets relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees—can interpret our gestures as flexibly as dogs. If habits, such as feeding or walking, are formed at certain times of day, the dog will be eagerly available to partake of them.
So are dogs smarter than cats: Not necessarily. Species are designed by nature to be good at different things.
And what might the genius of cats be? Possibly, that they just can’t be bothered playing our silly games or giving us the satisfaction of discovering the extent of their intelligence.