Are Dogs Smarter Than Cats?


The debate over whether dogs or cats are smarter has been raging for years. Pet owners are passionate about their feline and canine companions, and both sides make excellent points. At first glance, dogs seem easier to train and more attentive to their owners. However, cats display impressive problem-solving skills and independence. So which pet has the edge in intelligence?

In this article, we’ll analyze key factors like brain structure, trainability, social skills, problem-solving, communication abilities, working roles, memory, and learned versus innate intelligence. By exploring research on how both animals think and behave, we can shed more light on their unique cognitive abilities. Though a definitive ranking may not be possible, a deeper look at the evidence provides plenty of fodder for this friendly rivalry.

Brain Structure

When it comes to brain size, dogs have the advantage. A dog’s brain is about 100 times larger than a cat’s brain, having up to 160 million neurons compared to a cat’s 250 million [1]. The number of neural connections in the brain also plays a role in intelligence. Dogs have more than twice the neural connections as cats, with about 160 billion compared to a cat’s 74 billion [2].

However, when comparing the frontal cortex specifically, which is associated with cognition, cats have 300 million neurons compared to dogs’ 160 million [3]. So while dogs have larger overall brain size, cats have greater density of neurons in areas linked to thinking and problem-solving.

Ability to be Trained

Many studies have shown that dogs are generally easier to train than cats. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to follow human commands and perform helpful tasks like herding, hunting, and guarding. This cooperative relationship with humans has led to dogs developing strong abilities for reading human social cues and communication (Are Dogs Really Smarter Than Cats?).

Dogs are very attuned to human emotions and body language. They understand pointing gestures and can follow more complex commands. Dogs even exhibit some sense of theory of mind by taking the perspective of humans. This social cognition makes dogs highly trainable for learning tricks, commands, and jobs (Cats vs. Dogs: Exploring Feline Intelligence and Canine IQ).

Cats are more independent and less social than dogs. They have not been selectively bred for thousands of years to work cooperatively with humans. While cats can learn to respond to words like “sit” and “come,” they generally don’t care to perform as many tasks on command. Cats have less social cognition and ability to adopt the human perspective, which impacts their trainability.

Social Skills

When it comes to interacting with humans, dogs tend to have stronger social skills than cats. According to Britannica, dogs are able to understand human emotions and body language in ways that cats cannot. Dogs have evolved to be highly social animals and have developed the ability to read human cues and respond appropriately. For example, dogs know when their human companion is sad or upset and will often try to offer comfort. Cats, on the other hand, tend to be more aloof and independent. While cats do form social bonds with their owners, they are not as attuned to human emotion and don’t rely on people for companionship to the same degree as dogs.

Experts suggest dogs’ advanced social intelligence comes from thousands of years of domestication. Over time, dogs with better social skills were more successful at interacting with people, and so those traits were selected for and passed down. This gives dogs an evolutionary edge in terms of relating to and communicating with humans. Cats, while domesticated, have generally had less selective breeding for specific traits. As solitary hunters, cats have not evolved the same complex social skills as the highly cooperative, pack-oriented dogs.

Overall, when it comes to social intelligence and reading human social cues, dogs demonstrate greater abilities than cats. While cats are perfectly capable pets, dogs are more naturally tuned in to human emotions and better adapted at social integration into human life. Their history of domestication and work alongside humans has shaped dogs into more socially intelligent animals.


Cats tend to outperform dogs when it comes to tests of theory of mind, causality, and object permanence. For example, one study found that cats understand cause and effect better than dogs. Researchers set up a puzzle box that required pulling a string to open. The cats figured it out quicker and learned how to open the box repeatedly. Dogs struggled more with grasping the causal relationship between pulling the string and opening the box.

In object permanence tests, cats again excelled compared to dogs. Cats were better able to locate hidden objects and understand that objects continue to exist even when out of sight. One reason for this is that cats are more independent and need to visualize and track prey even when it disappears briefly.

While dogs don’t tend to do as well on these specific problem solving assessments, some research suggests dogs may have advantages in social intelligence and communication abilities. But when it comes to independent thinking, logic, and deduction, studies indicate cats appear to have the edge.

Communication Skills

Dogs have the advantage when it comes to communicating with humans. Through body language and vocalizations, dogs can express a wide range of emotions and they understand many human verbal commands and gestural cues. According to, dogs have superior human communication skills compared to cats. Dogs can understand hundreds of human words and gestures while cats only understand a few dozen at most.

Cats mainly rely on non-verbal communication like body language, pheromones, and vocalizations to interact with humans and other cats. While cats do communicate with humans through meowing and purring, they have a more limited vocal range compared to dogs and have not been domesticated to understand human language in the same way dogs have.

Working Roles

Dogs have a long history of working alongside humans in a variety of roles due to their trainability, loyalty, and keen sense of smell. Some of the most common working roles for dogs include:

Service dogs help people with disabilities live more independent lives. They are trained to perform various tasks like guiding the blind, alerting people to sounds for the hearing impaired, or fetching items and opening doors for those with mobility limitations (The Wildest).

Search and rescue dogs use their powerful sense of smell to locate missing persons after disasters. Their ability to cover large areas of ground while picking up scents makes them invaluable in these efforts (Bond Vet).

Police dogs such as German shepherds and Belgian Malinois are trained to assist law enforcement. They can sniff out drugs, chase suspects, and detect explosives. Their presence and ability to respond to commands provides officers with invaluable aid (PBS).

In comparison, cats are not routinely trained for specialized working roles. While cats can be trained, they are less motivated by human direction or reward. The independent nature of cats makes intensive training a challenge. As a result, there are far fewer working roles for cats in service to humans.


Studies have shown that dogs tend to outperform cats when it comes to short-term memory abilities. For example, research has demonstrated that dogs can remember specific events for up to 5 minutes, whereas cats may only retain memories for 1 minute or less (Springtime Inc.). This gives dogs an advantage when it comes to learning obedience commands, tricks, and completing tasks that involve a sequence of steps.

However, cats seem to have a slight edge when it comes to spatial memory. According to PetMD, cats are very good at remembering complex spaces and mapping out environments in their memory. Their spatial awareness helps them navigate easily and return to preferred locations or resources.

Both dogs and cats can form strong long-term memories of owners, routines, trauma, and important life events. But their short-term working memory capacities differ, with dogs showing superior retention over brief time spans. This affects how each species performs on memory and intelligence tests.

Innate vs Learned

When it comes to innate vs learned skills and intelligence, dogs seem to excel at learned skills like training, while cats rely more on innate hunting abilities.

Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to follow human commands and be trained for tasks like herding, hunting, and more. Their willingness to please and obey makes them easier to train using positive reinforcement. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and signals as commands. According to one study, the smartest dogs can learn a new command after only 5 repetitions and follow the first command given to them up to 95% of the time.

In contrast, cats are not as motivated by praise and food rewards. They are less social than dogs by nature and prize their independence. Cats have strong innate predatory skills and hunting instincts. These instincts drive much of their play behavior as kittens and skill in catching prey as adults. While cats can be trained, it requires more patience and they are selective about which behaviors they will readily perform on command.


In looking at the various cognitive abilities of dogs and cats, there are a few key findings:

In terms of intelligence, dogs seem to have some advantages when it comes to working memory, social skills, communication skills, and ability to be trained. Their pack-oriented nature has led them to develop strengths in understanding social cues, communicating, and following direction.

However, cats exhibit some different strengths, including independence, problem-solving skills, and athleticism. Cats have a reputation forbeing more difficult to train, but some research suggests their independent nature enables them to adeptly solve puzzles and challenges on their own.

Overall there are advantages and disadvantages for both species’ cognitive abilities. While dogs seem stronger in social intelligence and trainability, cats have strengths in other areas like self-reliance and dexterity. Much also depends on breed and individual personality. There is no clear “smarter” species.

The most important takeaway is that both dogs and cats have evolved impressive capacities in their own ways. Appreciating their different abilities and strengths allows us to support their needs and form rewarding bonds.

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