3 min.

Is my cat smarter than me?

We know that dogs can find people who are lost, sniff out drug traffickers at the border, and keep a herd of sheep in line, but we’ve never heard of cats taking on such tasks. So, if cats aren’t as smart as dogs, how could they possibly be smarter than humans?

Well, any cat owner can tell you, with a sly and knowing smile, that cats are in fact capable of doing something that most dogs can’t: Use a litter box.

Who’s smarter, a cat or a dog?

On a more serious note, it’s true that most people think that dogs are smarter than cats. This is largely due to a study that came out in the 1970s, where researchers conducted a test to see which of the two animals would pull on a string to get food. Dogs performed really well. But cats failed miserably. They preferred to play with the string rather than use it as a means to a tasty end.

This study serves as a good example of the inherent difficulty in comparing the intelligence of these two animals. Because dogs don’t really like playing with string, but cats love it, a test of this nature is far from definitive in determining which of the two is the smarter beast.

Since the 1970s, other tests have been conducted which reveal that cats and dogs have a similar level of intelligence, despite the fact that cats have twice as many neurons than dogs, which, technically, should make it easier for them to solve more complex problems.

The independent nature of cats

A lot of people will tell you that it’s possible to train a cat to fetch a stick, but the truth is that it would probably be easier to teach the stick to bring itself back. However, the cat’s intelligence isn’t the problem here. It’s the training technique.

For several years—and still to this day unfortunately—dog trainers have used punishment as a training technique when dogs disobey. The use of a choker is a case in point. Thankfully, this approach has proven to be ineffective and doesn’t work at all on cats, as they see no point in performing a task that is unpleasant and that gives them nothing in return. As a result, researchers have largely concluded that cats are impossible to train.

With the advent of positive reinforcement techniques, we have discovered that you can, in fact, train a cat to do almost anything that a dog can do.

Cats, their environment and their love of routine

We are far from seeing the day when cats will be on leashes at the airport sniffing our luggage. That’s not because cats aren’t as smart as dogs, but rather that they’re more attached to their environment and routine-driven. Taking cats out of their comfort zones and their daily routines is a complicated affair.

What’s more, it isn’t easy to find ways to effectively motivate cats. Dogs are happy with a pat on the back and a belly rub, but cats tend to be motivated by one thing only: Food. If a cat isn’t hungry or if it’s scared, getting it to “perform” is pretty much out of the question.

Though it can be a source of irritation, don’t you find that your cat’s intelligence is most on display when it wants something from you? Just think about those nights when you ignore its meows and it starts pushing ornaments off the shelves or playing with the blinds… knowing full well that you’ll break before he does and that you’ll give into his demands.

When that happens, who’s the smarter one? The cat that gets his way or the cat owner who gets taken in without even realizing it?