I KNEW IT
November 30, 2017 9:57 PM   Subscribe

The first study to actually count the number of cortical neurons in the brains of a number of carnivores, including cats and dogs, has found that dogs possess significantly more of them than cats. […] The results of the study are described in a paper titled “Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species” accepted for publication in the open access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (84 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cats are mousetraps. Dogs are friends.
posted by valkane at 10:03 PM on November 30 [12 favorites]


This is pure racism and it will not stand.
posted by hippybear at 10:04 PM on November 30 [32 favorites]


Fake news! #teamcat
posted by LarryC at 10:09 PM on November 30 [25 favorites]


Dogs are babies and cats are symbiotes.
posted by rhizome at 10:09 PM on November 30 [3 favorites]


All right. Look. I’ve had cats that were certainly lovers. But dogs are best friends.
posted by valkane at 10:11 PM on November 30 [8 favorites]


Pack hunters need to model the internal states of other members of the pack as well as prey species. Solitary hunters only need to model the internal states of prey.

Prey don't need to model the internal states of anything. They need to figure out when to flee. So not very complicated.
posted by figurant at 10:18 PM on November 30 [15 favorites]


This is pure racism and it will not stand.

Typical felinist poppycock.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:21 PM on November 30 [12 favorites]


This has me incredibly curious whether neuronal density is significantly different between dog breeds of varying sizes... after all in this paper they're classify dogs based on the size of a golden retriever, but a 3 lb chihuahua is the same species.
posted by polymath at 10:27 PM on November 30 [1 favorite]


I have lived with a 3 lb chihuahua. It literally was just a bundle of reactive input-output reflexes. It had no personality beyond "barking a lot" and "needing to be held and shivering the entire time" and "asleep".
posted by hippybear at 10:29 PM on November 30 [42 favorites]


It's what you do with them that counts.
posted by pompomtom at 10:29 PM on November 30 [2 favorites]


Either way they get me a lot of Instagram likes
posted by numaner at 10:30 PM on November 30 [2 favorites]


I have lived with a 3 lb chihuahua. It literally was just a bundle of reactive input-output reflexes. It had no personality beyond "barking a lot" and "needing to be held and shivering the entire time" and "asleep".

Those are design features.
posted by Beholder at 10:34 PM on November 30


Barking a lot is a bug.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 PM on November 30 [4 favorites]


I also will say, standing in the hallway and yowling at 4:30am and using the echo of the hallway to magnify the vocal abilities of a 10 lb cat is ALSO a bug. And yet, I live with that.
posted by hippybear at 10:37 PM on November 30 [16 favorites]


You know, this is one of the Frontiers journals, so I'd take that with a comparatively larger grain of salt.
posted by runcifex at 10:37 PM on November 30 [1 favorite]


NPR's Fresh Air interviews Alexandra Horowitz, researcher, author, and founder of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. IIRC most of the discussion covers their sense of smell and how it may affect their thought process.
posted by XMLicious at 11:08 PM on November 30 [4 favorites]


You would REALLY think, with all the articles we have seen about groups funding research designed to be friendly to them, that, maybe, perhaps... You might see this as a tool for Big Canine.

You know, Dog Blue.
posted by Samizdata at 11:08 PM on November 30 [4 favorites]


Just sayin' here, sheeple.
posted by Samizdata at 11:09 PM on November 30


I wonder how much of that neuron density is dedicated exclusively to interpreting the convoluted and sometimes contradictory noises + body language of their human co-species. Because I've encountered many dogs that on the one hand seem to understand us incredibly well...yet on the other hand are capable of doing some incredibly boneheaded things. Cats? They understand us perfectly well, they just elect to pay attention or not on a case-by-case basis.

Or, what figurant said more concisely.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:09 PM on November 30 [2 favorites]


Humans have bigger brains and higher neuron density than cats and dogs combined, and yet a majority of humans are less intelligent than a neurotypical toadstool.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 12:06 AM on December 1 [22 favorites]


I live with two humans and two cats, but if I have to move, it's the cats I'm bringing with me
posted by aubilenon at 12:18 AM on December 1 [9 favorites]


(Even though the humans have more neurons)
posted by aubilenon at 12:56 AM on December 1


man this is so needlessly divisive

i mean it's right but still
posted by poffin boffin at 12:57 AM on December 1 [7 favorites]


u will nevar get me to choose between dogs and cats

nevaaaaar

*pets neighbor's dog every day*

*snuggles with her fluffers i mean srsly who needs neurons for snuggles the whole point is ur neurons r dormant*
posted by fraula at 1:35 AM on December 1 [5 favorites]


My Grandmother could make a Jam that would make you tell the Truth, but Nobody could tell a Lie like my Grandmother. If you Lied, while eating it, the Jam would sour and rot in your Mouth until you had to throw up. But, if you were Honest--If you told the Truth--the Jam was sweeter than Honeysuckle, and lasted all Day. My Grandmother was always yelling at us kids to keep out of her root cellar and blaming us for Jam, or jars of Jam, that had gone missing that she had eaten herself. The Jam did not work on her.

We tried it on the Dog, and he liked it.
That's because Dogs don't Lie. They bury stuff, but they are not Liars.

When Dogs eat Grass they throw up, but when our Dog, Tiki, ate Grass, after we had given him some Jam, he could Talk. Most people don't believe me when I tell them what Tiki said, but how do YOU explain people traveling to India and a Hindi-speaking man telling them their Life story and what Street they live on? I think if you spend your entire life focusing on a singular skill, anything is possible. Granted, dogs don't live as long as humans, but dogs are pretty smart.

Tiki didn't understand why people talk to themselves. He thought smoking was stupid. He said specialty bred dogs posed with pipes and cigars were sell-outs. Tiki used to tell us what other dogs' barks meant, until he died. He instructed his ashes be scattered over an oversized fire-hydrant installed by Red Grooms in the sculpture garden at the Minneapolis Museum of Modern Art, but we just buried him in the backyard.

We buried him next to a tree stump and used a soldering iron to burn his epitaph into it: HERE LIES TIKI--CATS ARE LIARS

Tiki said that all the time. He said dogs were smart enough to lie, and get away with it, but that cats lie all the time and run away when caught. That's what's going on when you see a cat beating it around a corner-- deceit. A dog forever looks you in the eye. A cat, only long enough to size up the next big lie. And there were a lot of cats around my Grandmother's house and none of them would come near that Jam.

Cats are Liars, or else my Grandmother wouldn't have kept so many around.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 1:45 AM on December 1 [56 favorites]


Something to keep in mind here is that the relationship between number of neurons and individual differences in cognitive ability is basically not understood at all.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:51 AM on December 1 [19 favorites]


I would never argue that dogs don't have more raw intelligence than cats, but wisdom would be another answer.

I've never had a cat wake me up at four in the morning barking for an hour at... clouds, or nothing at all.

Or demonstrate incredibly poor impulse control like clearing a 5 foot fence to chase down a deer and catch it and then still be confused what to do next. Meanwhile the poor terrified and not small deer now looking to mess said dog right up, and dog doesn't understand why the deer doesn't want to be friends after getting taken to the ground by the neck by a giant derpy pitbull-boxer mutt.

Sure, a cat would happily chase down a deer if it could but it wouldn't be confused about what to do next if it caught one. There would be no confusion. It'd eat the damn deer. Or leave it on your pillow mostly alive as a present.

And while cats are known for doing ridiculous things like going splat against walls, these are usually mistakes in judgement or unseen obstacles, like launching from a piece of paper from the edge of a table.

You don't generally see a cat doing something derpy like chasing a tennis ball straight down a hole or off a cliff. A cat doesn't chase cars or bicycles. A cat would never attempt to, say, bite the wheels of a rolling bicycle or skateboard, especially not if it grew up in a bicycle shop.

Even the wildest of housecats doesn't end up coming home reeking of skunk or with a face full of porcupine quills or covered in cactus plates the way dogs do. Cats also generally don't go rolling around in garbage, or mud, or whatever random filthy thing they can find. Look, I've seen more than one video of a dog chewing a moving car. Car is trying to back away, dog is chewing the bumper right off. Just try to even imagine a house cat doing that.

And while dogs might be easier best friends, when you make a friend with a cat it's a friend for life. And it's not going to have a neurotic breakdown if you don't see it for a few hours, and like a good friend they're better at respecting your boundaries and alone time.

I've also never had a dog give me a a surprisingly adept and useful back rub and then manage to quietly curl up right on the sore spot like a living hot water bottle the way a cat can, but I guess dogs have that whole gross wound licking thing going on.

And anyway, this study is kind of useless as far as anthropocentric pet-brain measuring is concerned without identifying how many of those neurons are dedicated to weird doggo instincts like turning around several times in a circle before sitting down, because I suspect that that ratio is much higher in dogs than cats.

Here's a litmus test: Ask yourself which animal you'd be more terrified about having opposable thumbs and the concept of tool use.

I bet your answer is cats.

What the heck is a dog going to do with thumbs? Catch a frisbee? Hold it's own leash? Enthusiastically shake hands with everyone, all the time? Finally eat a buffalo chicken wing right off the bone without someone freaking out about it?

What would a cat do? What wouldn't a cat do? You'd probably have about a five hundred year arc of cat evolution and development between bronze age swords and antimatter powered hypersonic bird hunting cruise missiles... which they use to hunt the giant genetically engineered mutant ostrich-chickens one hundred feet tall that they invented because of course they still like to play with their food and it's not like there's any real birds left. At least none that taste good.

Sorry, I was going somewhere with this but I have a cat on my lap.

Oh, right. Cats purr. Point: cats. Can you imagine a dog purring? It would just be so wrong and weird. Maybe even a little threatening.

posted by loquacious at 1:57 AM on December 1 [159 favorites]


Loquacious, your comment made me smile. What an excellent thing to read before heading to bed, next to two fat kitties! Your comment is truly the Best of Metafilter.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:28 AM on December 1 [4 favorites]


Dogs don't lie.

Of course they do. This is a Dogpublican talking point. Anyone who pays attention will know it's bullshit.

A dog forever looks you in the eye.

Another falsehood. A dog staring you in the eye is an excellent indicator that it's about to attack. Staring a dog in the eye is telling it that you're about to attack, and it will probably respond with hostility.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Just sayin' here, sheeple.

Flagged as a sheeprail.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:11 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]


My cats are best friends. Anyone who says cats aren't friends never had a good cat, and I feel sorry for them.
posted by agregoli at 5:18 AM on December 1 [10 favorites]


I have lived with a 3 lb chihuahua. It literally was just a bundle of reactive input-output reflexes. It had no personality beyond "barking a lot" and "needing to be held and shivering the entire time" and "asleep".

I'm pretty confident his study examined the brains of real dogs, not Chihuahuas.

* I'm kidding, of course, but speak from experience as the companion of real dogs (Aussies) and a Yorkie.
posted by zakur at 6:33 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]


I love dogs. Dogs are like cats that don't hate you.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:42 AM on December 1 [8 favorites]


I grew up having dogs, I love dogs, I've had my own dog for the last five years and she is such a good dog (as are they all). But I've learned a ton about dogs in the last six months or so.

We've had a couple of really great threads with articles talking about the evolution of dogs and how there is evidence that some proto-dog ancestors caused humans to develop empathy so that we could be their people.

Recently, I've been reading this book: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

It's utterly fascinating and I've learned a ton.

For instance, I knew that dogs have an incredible sense of smell and that it's their primary sense whereas for humans it's sight. This means that, to a dog, if they con't smell something, it's not as real to them. So, if you try to see if a dog has a sense of self by putting them in front of a mirror for a while and putting some mark on their face that they could only see in the mirror, they won't really have any interest in their reflection for long enough to realize that they're looking at themselves because the reflection doesn't smell like anything. Other types of tests clearly show that dogs have a sense of self awareness.

It's also not so much a sense of smell as it is a mobile CSI crime lab. You know how your dog will sniff something a bunch and then give it a little lick? That's because some molecules get stuck to the surface and don't get picked up by the sniffing so they get a little lick and then rub their tongue on the roof of their mouth where anything they picked up will get carried up to the snoot where it can be analyzed.

Dog's noses are wet for a similar reason. When they rub their nose against you the moisture will pick up scents from your skin that will bet carried back to the "Jacobsen’s organ" to give them detailed analysis of how you're feeling.

So when a stranger is petting my dog and asking, "Do you smell my dog I have at home?" Inside I'm saying, "Look, she not only smells your dog but smells where you dog went the last time you went for a walk and what brand of food you feed them. She smells what you had for lunch last week. She's been sniffing you for long enough that she can probably tell you more about yourself that YOU can. Yes, she smells your dog."

Their hearing is a little more sensitive and covers a wider frequency range but they're not as good at figuring out the direction a sound came from as we are. It works for the dog because they use their ears to figure out where to look and then they look so they can go sniff. And also because they're so used to living with humans that they'll also look to the human for help.

In fact, there are a bunch of neurological development tests that have been done with baby humans and apes to determine when certain cognitive abilities are developed that don't work as well when we try them with dogs because the dogs pay so much attention to what the humans are doing that it lets them cheat.

Your dogs sense of you as an entity is tied, as is everything, to scent. To your dog, the things that smell like you are you to some extent.

Almost every animal pays more attention to the faces of other animals of it's own species than others. Humans anchor the other end of the spectrum in that we'll pay attention to faces that aren't even on animals. Dogs closer to us in their tendency to look at and pay attention to faces of species other than their own than just about any other animal. And while they'll pay attention to the faces of most animals, it should come as no surprise that humans get a preference.

Or demonstrate incredibly poor impulse control like clearing a 5 foot fence to chase down a deer and catch it and then still be confused what to do next.

My dog likes to chase rabbits but she isn't really fast enough and our yard is small enough that she'd have to get very lucky to catch one. We were talking about this one day and my wife told me that she didn't think the dog would know what to do with it. My reply was that I'm certain she'd know what to do, I'd just be afraid that it's either "chow down" or "bring it to my humans" and I'm not sure which I'd prefer if I had to choose.

But Mrs. VTX didn't really believe it until one day she was in the yard while the dog was making the rounds checking the perimeter when Mrs. VTX saw a rabbit creep out from under the deck. She called to the dog who got with the program real quick. She managed to creep up really close to the rabbit before it bolted. I thought we were in the clear and then the rabbit got a little stuck slipping under the fence. The dog got the rabbits tail and a bloody bit where it was attached. It's hard to say for certain that she felt proud of her catch but she was really proud she caught that tail and was happy to let me have it. This would mark the last time we attempted to help the dog hunt for anything. It did help cement the idea in our minds that while our little Bailey is an adorable and sweet little pupper, she is also a 90Lbs apex predator that FUCK SOME SHIT UP if she has a mind to and we can't ever forget that.
posted by VTX at 6:46 AM on December 1 [22 favorites]


Ask yourself which animal you'd be more terrified about having opposable thumbs and the concept of tool use.

My not-quite-grown kitten is polydactyl, and she's working on it. She's teaching herself how to hold pens, though she can't get the caps off, yet.

She's a sweet-tempered creature and (mostly) possessed of a benevolent spirit, fortunately. But I'm pretty sure she's got plans.
posted by halation at 6:47 AM on December 1 [4 favorites]


I don't care how many neurons my bassets have. They have me wrapped around their stubby paws regardless.
posted by blucevalo at 6:56 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


Pilot whales have more neurons than humans. Are we making some sort of judgement here?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:06 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


there are many good boys and girls on both sides!
posted by asteria at 7:08 AM on December 1 [7 favorites]


To your dog, the things that smell like you are you to some extent.

My pup Russell was a shelter dog, and he sometimes has separation anxiety when he's left alone at a time he's not expecting. At first that manifested in destructive chewing, but that stopped once we took his favorite targets (towels, mostly) out of reach. Now what happens is I'll sometimes come home and find a shoe in the middle of the floor. He doesn't chew it, he just wants to nap next to something that smells like one of his people's feet.
posted by skymt at 7:09 AM on December 1 [4 favorites]


> Recently, I've been reading this book: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Huh. I thought that inside of a dog, it's too hard to read.
posted by ardgedee at 7:23 AM on December 1 [14 favorites]


> Huh. I thought that inside of a dog, it's too hard to read.

Dude, the Groucho quote is the epigraph of the book.
posted by languagehat at 7:46 AM on December 1 [4 favorites]


I did not know that! I appreciate the authors awareness, and that makes me want to read the book now too. (albeit outside of a dog because I have no dog.)
posted by ardgedee at 7:47 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


What about bunny rabbits???
posted by lagomorphius at 8:05 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


NPR's Fresh Air interviews Alexandra Horowitz, researcher, author, and founder of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College.

This was such a missed opportunity to just call it the Dognition Lab.
posted by Jpfed at 8:15 AM on December 1 [11 favorites]


[dogs have] not so much a sense of smell as it is a mobile CSI crime lab.

You aren't kidding. I have hunting dogs. Watching them work a field, and find birds at 30mph is amazing.

My town has a dog park with a frisbee golf course, and there is an irrigation ditch that runs through part of it. My wife's dog (the black one in the profile pic) routinely finds discs under a foot or more of water. He'll be running alongside the ditch, turn and dive in, and come up with it. I have about 60 of them now, he's been doing this for years.

I've talked in the past about that dog and his capability towards murder. Dogs are amazing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:18 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]


I’m glad to see this. I’ve known for a while that dogs are terrifyingly smart, and this just cements it.
posted by corb at 8:19 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Here's a litmus test: Ask yourself which animal you'd be more terrified about having opposable thumbs and the concept of tool use.

Are you kidding? Cats would just find better ways of tearing apart the furniture. Dogs would organize.

You think a wolf pack is scary? Sheeeeeeeeeeit.
posted by panama joe at 8:33 AM on December 1 [5 favorites]


like a good friend [cats are] better at respecting your boundaries and alone time.

Counterpoint: My cat follows me to the bathroom 90% of the time and sleeps on me most nights. This morning she missed me closing the door to take a shower, and when I turned off the water 10 minutes later she was already ripping up the hallway carpet. She was angry to have missed her time to sit on the toilet and glare at the shower curtain.

My cat is weird, and does not respect boundaries.
posted by Is It Over Yet? at 8:48 AM on December 1 [9 favorites]


RE: dogs and rabbits

Our dog is an Akita and not a great runner. She's plenty graceful but you see her running with other dogs, they're clearly much faster and much more graceful.

But she can stalk prey like nobody's business. I'll see if I can dig out a video. You'd swear that you're looking at a photo the dog is so still. The way she freezes into that stalkers pose is amazing, the intense single-mined focus, and the patience as she slowly creeps up on the thing.

Most of the chase is done on reflex. Dog's eyes don't have as dense an area at the back of their packed with extra rods and cones as we do. So they don't see as much detail as we do and they'll lose objects that stay very still. But they pick up movement exceedingly well. It's part of what makes them so good at picking up facial queues to figure out how we're feeling. It also means that the dog is hypersensitive to any movement that rabbit makes.

As soon as the rabbit makes a move, the dog will explode into motion so fast not even the dog is fully aware that it's happened. The rabbit is smaller so it will dart around to try and out-maneuver the dog. Here the dog's eyes come into play again. It'll catch that motion as soon as it starts and the dog will turn to cut inside the arc of the rabbits turn. Each time it turns, the dog gets a little closer.

Unless the rabbit is being chased by a coyote. We have them around here and they're a danger to smaller dogs. I saw one while I was driving around the neighborhood in that same pose stalking a rabbit when the rabbit bolted and coyte bolted after it.

I happened to be going the same direction as the chase so I kept waiting for the rabbit to turn but it never did. I looked at my speedometer and found out why. I was going the 35mph speed limit and I was getting left behind. That rabbit was literally running for it's life and a turn would have cost it too much speed and the coyote was just running that fluffy bastard down. Fast dogs running at top speed are a thing of beauty, this was something else.
posted by VTX at 9:13 AM on December 1 [6 favorites]


Pilot whales have more neurons than humans. Are we making some sort of judgement here?

I would absolutely prefer to have a pilot whale as president.
posted by AFABulous at 9:29 AM on December 1 [17 favorites]


The dog I grew up with, King the Big Chocolate Lab, was super-smart. Sure, he did goofy dog stuff for the fun of it, but when he had a goal, he always figured out exactly how to take care of business. You could see the serious, okay-not-fooling-around look come over his little face.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:42 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Cats and dogs are great for individual sets of reasons. I will never understand having to pour scorn on one in order to laud the other.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:43 AM on December 1 [12 favorites]


This morning she missed me closing the door to take a shower, and when I turned off the water 10 minutes later she was already ripping up the hallway carpet. She was angry to have missed her time to sit on the toilet and glare at the shower curtain.

Years ago, I had a shower with sliding doors and a little tabby cat named Steve. Steve considered it Her Sacred Duty to make sure I was okay in the shower. As soon as I got in, she would jump up to the ledge on top of the door frame, assume loaf position, and settle in for the duration. As the room grew warmer and steamer, she would get more and more relaxed until her front paws would slip off the ledge. She would hook her “thumb” claws into a little groove in the metal of the door frame, but eventually that would become too much effort and her little arms would dangle down like Monorail Cat. If it was a long shower, she might doze off up there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:49 AM on December 1 [11 favorites]


You think a wolf pack is scary? Sheeeeeeeeeeit.

No, dogs wouldn't be able to organize past the point of deciding what to eat or bark at. Any more complicated social or political organization quickly collapses under dog logic, and can be thwarted with as little as a thrown tennis ball.

You seem to be vastly underestimating the inherent murderousness of cats. While the dogs are organizing to decide what to bark at the cats now have orbital ion cannons that can sublimate a single human-sized target directly into a hot plasma from space.

Worse, this timeline predicts the rise of hundreds of independent supercats, all warring with each other.

If you think a wolf pack is scary, you haven't properly considered the idea of hundreds of individual cat warlords armed with and using tactical nuclear weapons.
posted by loquacious at 9:52 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]


One of these two kinds of animals eats it own poop.


And it ain't cats.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:26 AM on December 1 [10 favorites]


Further information: kittens and puppies disagree about nipple policy
posted by moonmilk at 10:30 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


Also, cat affection must be earned. That makes it more special.


Somehow
posted by gottabefunky at 10:42 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]


I will never understand having to pour scorn on one in order to laud the other.

TBH I think a lot of the time the scorn is being poured on "the type of people who tend to own $animal" rather than the animals themselves...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:05 AM on December 1


Also, cat affection must be earned

It's not just cats. Dogs also need to be fed
posted by aubilenon at 11:22 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


VTK, I just wandered out to the used bookstore (and petted the two shop cats) and found the book you mentioned! I snapped it up, it sounds really interesting.
posted by PussKillian at 11:23 AM on December 1 [1 favorite]


I grew up with cats and long considered myself a Cat Person; a year or two back I ended up with a dog (in addition to two cats).

I didn't mind dogs, and I liked other people's dogs, in the casual way one does when you're only spending an hour with one, but I didn't really know dogs. The process of slowly figuring out How Dogs Work after a lifetime of having cats has been enlightening.

My current theory is that dogs are probably "smarter", for some abstract measurement of cognitive capacity, but the real difference is in what the average dog spends its brainpower doing. Dogs, or at least my dog, seem to expend a tremendous amount of their cognitive capacity modeling what the humans around him are thinking, and in particular what we want him to do (which leads to rewards), and how to get us to do stuff for him. E.g., he knows how to ask us to let him out, but more importantly also seems to know our moods and patterns well enough to know when and who to ask, in terms of who's most likely to do it.

The cats, by contrast, very clearly don't give a damn. If they have any internal model of their humans' mental state at all, I suspect it's a very simple one. But they seem to do better than the dog at some individualized problem-solving tasks, to the point where I'm pretty confident they're capable of doing some pretty complex modeling, if suitably motivated. I've watched them play-stalk each other and it's more like watching chess than anything I've ever seen the dog do (dogs, I've decided, only play Calvinball with each other, and the rules are determined by a real-time committee vote).

For instance, if I give the cat and the dog a similar task—tossing a favorite toy behind a chair or under a piece of furniture, where it takes some work to get to it—they solve the problem very differently. The cat will figure out how to retrieve the toy, and occasionally displays some reasonable degree of cleverness in doing so (shoving the chair out of the way or clawing the carpet up to move the toy closer). The dog will go over, stare at the toy, try to fit his entire head under the chair, fail hopelessly, and then turn around and stare at me. If I miss him the first time, or don't react, he'll repeat the demonstration.

From what I can discern, the cat is solving the problem as presented, but the dog seems to be trying to figure out why I tossed the toy behind the chair, and what he's supposed to do next. (With training, I'm sure I could teach the dog to get the toy out, but that's not really the point. His primary problem-solving heuristic is to try and figure out what the humans want him to do.)

I've never spent time around any nondomesticated pack animals, so I don't know if this is a pack-animal behavior or if it's part of the way dogs have been domesticated. Either theory seems plausible: pack animals have an obvious need to understand each other in a way that individual hunters only need to understand prey; cats, due to their size, hit the "okay I'll let you live in the house" limit with a lower level of domestication than dogs, because a 10-pound cat is just a whole lot less threatening than a 60-pound dog. Much as I like the cats, if either of them were the size of a large dog, they'd be... well, our relationship would be very different.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:56 AM on December 1 [18 favorites]


dogs, I've decided, only play Calvinball with each other, and the rules are determined by a real-time committee vote

This is almost literally true.

According to the book I mentioned up-thread if you watch video of dogs at play and go frame by frame, you'll see an almost constant chatter of body language communication. A shift of paw here, a glance there, and the two dogs negotiate their play and talk to each other while they play.

Side note, the author did that research by watching and taping dogs at play for a year! For her job!

Also, you dog's problem solving style actually changes depending on whether a person is around or not. So if you're around and they want to solve a problem, they look to you. If no one is around, they'll probably start trying to solve the problem more like the cat.
posted by VTX at 12:15 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


Oh and that problem solving heuristic you describe is right on. The evidence points to their thought process basically being, "Hmm, how do I solve this? Are there are humans around? YES! Please help me human!" It appears to be unique to dogs.

It's not a pack behavior though it may have evolved from them. When presented with similar problems, wolves will just get to work on solving the problem.
posted by VTX at 12:24 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Cats and dogs are great for individual sets of reasons. I will never understand having to pour scorn on one in order to laud the other.

Why don’t more animals get compared anyway? Apparently there aren’t any raccoon fans here to be smug about their higher neuronal density than both cats and dogs. It’s always gotta be cats vs dogs, never dogs vs horses or birds vs snakes or fish vs ant farm. Dog owners will feel smug about dogs going for walks and doing tricks but I don’t see horse people going “ha! You cannot ride around on a dog and have it carry heavy objects!” Or grey parrot people going “your dog will never speak to you with real words!” Some dog or cat owner is probably even reading this comment trying to think of a comeback in their head about why their fav is better than the other animals.
posted by alexlaw at 12:26 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


There's really only one way to settle this debate: would you rather fight 5 dog-sized cats or 20 cat-sized dogs?
posted by gottabefunky at 12:39 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


(Dog size = retriever)
posted by gottabefunky at 12:40 PM on December 1


Actual footage of being attacked by 20 cat-sized dogs.

Warning: Brutally adorable, may result in temporary anime-style heart eyes, spontaneous shouts of "PUPPIES!", and long-lasting cute overload.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:46 PM on December 1 [7 favorites]


hippybear: I have lived with a 3 lb chihuahua. It literally was just a bundle of reactive input-output reflexes. It had no personality beyond "barking a lot" and "needing to be held and shivering the entire time" and "asleep".

also hippybear: I also will say, standing in the hallway and yowling at 4:30am and using the echo of the hallway to magnify the vocal abilities of a 10 lb cat is ALSO a bug. And yet, I live with that.

Yes, because 10 lb of cat does a lot more damage when you try to shut it up than 3 lb of chihuahua.
posted by maryr at 12:50 PM on December 1


Why don’t more animals get compared anyway?

Because cat people and dog people mostly agree that they're the two best companion animals. I guess horses might be in the running, but not many people have experience with horses.
posted by shponglespore at 1:03 PM on December 1


Truthful title: "SCIENTISTS WHO OWN DOGS DISCOVER DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN CATS
posted by happyroach at 1:32 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


FUCK YEAH DOGS
posted by andrewpcone at 2:23 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


I think they go:

1. Dogs
2. Horses
3. Raccoons (okay, I've only lived with a pizote but they're about the same to raccoons)
4. Cats

Dogs naturally try to problem-solve as a group, and most domesticated dogs learn that the easiest way to solve a problem is to convince a human to do it for them. So, in the presence of humans they get very intellectually lazy.

Horses and raccoons are both pretty smart, but they also get spooked easily and they have no chill. Raccoons can be extremely mean and are much more feral than any other creature on this list, even if they've been raised around humans.

Cats are predators and they don't have much reason to problem-solve outside of a fairly narrow type of reasoning. Most predators are stupid enough that they could credibly run for public office in the United States and cats are no exception.
posted by Oso Mocoso at 2:46 PM on December 1 [4 favorites]


Because cat people and dog people mostly agree that they're the two best companion animals. I guess horses might be in the running, but not many people have experience with horses.

The other one that people might think that about are rats. But many people are biased against rats. I've never actually interacted with a companion rat so I don't really know for sure but I've heard they're pretty great...?

Also my uncle was a hardcore cat person for YEARS (still is, his cats are great) but one day he fell in love with an elderly chihuahua and adopted her and now he's going around telling everyone how great dogs are like it is apparently news to the world. No, dude, just to you.
posted by mosst at 3:01 PM on December 1 [4 favorites]


Aren't pigs really smart?
posted by AFABulous at 3:11 PM on December 1


Smart enough to eat!
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:09 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


Apparently there aren’t any raccoon fans here to be smug about their higher neuronal density than both cats and dogs.

I'm in an Appalachian-based Facebook group where people can get in some really heated discussions on the topic of Raccoons v. Possums. I have to admit that's a very close tie for me, too.

TBH I think a lot of the time the scorn is being poured on "the type of people who tend to own $animal" rather than the animals themselves...

I can see this, yeah, and it's a whole can of worms I'd rather not open.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:42 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Smart enough to eat!

ಠ_ಠ
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:22 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


The other one that people might think that about are rats. But many people are biased against rats. I've never actually interacted with a companion rat so I don't really know for sure but I've heard they're pretty great...?

I am a dog person who does not have a dog, and has four cats, none of which I selected. My girlfriend had rats, and so they also became my rats in a way, and I liked them a lot. They are cute and clever and snuggly and cheeky and adventurous, but they were not litter trained (which is entirely possible) and they pooped and peed A LOT. But I would absolutely have rats again if I did not have four cats, and did not have room for dogs, and if the rats were litter trained.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:02 PM on December 3


We had a cat that we caught more than once chasing her tail. That's not unusual. Animals play. But when she'd catch it, she'd yowl, and then chase with greater vigor because the darned thing just bit her. That girl was about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.

One of the cats we have now, on the other hand, knows there is a window in my room, and has worked out that the only human that will open the door to allow access to the window is me. If he wants access, he will follow me around giving me pointed looks if I'm in the rest of the house, or meow for my attention if I'm already inside. He's clearly asking me for assistance and has worked out the rules surrounding the door that leads to the window.

There's a fairly wide variation of intelligence among the species.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:52 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


TBH I think a lot of the time the scorn is being poured on "the type of people who tend to own $animal" rather than the animals themselves...

Okay, I confess I have no idea what characteristics are supposed to separate cat- and dog-owners. As a dog person, what is it about cat people that could even form the basis of any hypothetical disdain I could have for them?
posted by Jpfed at 2:07 PM on December 4


Sorry, not taking the bait. ;)
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on December 4


One of my cats used to chase his tail, and once he bit it so hard I had to take him to the vet for stitches. He hasn't done that again but he's still the dumbest of the three.
posted by AFABulous at 2:53 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Jpfed, imagine this were titled cat owners (on the left) and dog owners on the right.
posted by AFABulous at 2:56 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


My dog chases her tail but it's because she has her tail itches so if I see her chasing it I'll hold it or her rump for her so she can more easily reach the itchy spot.
posted by VTX at 5:31 AM on December 5


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