Recently I answered the question of whether my dog (Snickers) or my cat (Zoey) is smarter.

My dog loves treats and is largely bored by the stuff I put in her food bowl. She eats it if she’s hungry enough, but she loves special treats. Now here’s the interesting part: If I take a pellet of food directly from her dish and present it as a special treat, she snarfs it down as if it were the best food in the world. And I can do this with her face literally one foot from a full bowl of food. In front of her eyes I pick up a boring pellet from the bowl and it magically becomes a special treat because it is now in my hand – the place from which all delicious treats originate. I can repeat this trick dozens of times and not once does Snickers think to bypass the hand and eat the big bowl of food that is directly in front of her snout.

Okay, so that’s how smart the dog is.

My cat, Zoey, developed an odd habit some years ago, or so I thought. When I walk anywhere near her food bowl, which generally has food in it, she meows to get my attention and demands to be petted. But when I go to pet her, she starts guiding me toward the bowl until I’m petting her at the same time she’s eating. Yes, she “George Costanzas” me.

George Costanza was a character on the old Seinfeld show. In one well-known episode George tried to combine the thrill of sex with the pleasure of eating a sandwich, doing both at the same time. Zoey has literally trained me to pet her while she eats, thus getting a double-tap of pleasure when most animals would have settled for either one.

Advantage: cat

Scott Adams


P.S. My startup, CalendarTree.com, got an unexpected 5 out of 5 Gearhead rating from Network World’s Mark Gibbs. The odd thing is that I didn't know this article was happening until it showed up on my Google Alert over the weekend.


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Apr 5, 2014
The problem with your analysis is that dogs and cats are equally intelligent to humans and many other animals.

See the dog is not equating the piece of food as some kind of special treat. Its equating having food in your hand with you playing a game and giving it attention. Dogs love attention and games. For instance my dog has bad teeth, but still wants to play tug of war with a rope toy I have. I humor her, even knowing it hurts her. She simply wants to interact and play. Your dog has you tricked into thinking they do it for the treat when in fact they do it because they like games.

The cat on the other hand is smart in a different way. The cat is probably trying to show you appreciation for feeding them or that you need to refill their dish. My cat begs for treats. In fact I didn't have to teach the cat anything the cat saw the two dogs in the house standing on hind legs with their front paws bent getting treats and when I tried it with the cat, on the first try it imitated the dogs perfectly and got free food.

Depending on how you measure intelligence (reading, writing, math, etc..., or the ability to reach your goals through cleverness), you'll find that humans are good at reading, writing, and math, but that animals are better than humans as reaching their own goals. For instance I used to feed my cat on the railing of my porch so the dogs couldn't reach their food. I would come back later to find the food knocked off on the ground and spread out. I just though at the time, what a clumsy cat. Later I watched from a window and saw that my dog picked up the cat dish in her mouth set it down on the porch ate most of the food, then nudged it off the side with her nose.

Dogs and Cats live well with humans because they read our body language and tone of voice as well as our pheromones in order to tell what mood we are in and then they observe our actions. They then respond appropriately. If you've ever had a bad day and come home and your dog puts its head in your lap, then you know what I'm talking about. Cat's and Dogs are so intelligent they can understand cross species languages and how to manipulate humans into doing what they want. The problem is no one bothers to measure their intelligence base on the animals goals rather than the manipulated goals that we set for them. If they did they might find that humans are much less intelligent than some animals.
Mar 19, 2014
A dog sees you feed it, pet it, look after it and thinks 'you must be my master'

A cat sees you feed it, pet it, look after it and thinks 'I must be a god'
Mar 18, 2014
Smarter, ok, but that doesn't translate directly to being a better pet, by that I mean I find dogs to be the preferably companion. I grew up with cats and loved them, thought they were the best, never had a dog, was actually afraid of them, then as an adult after my daughter pleaded and pleaded for a dog I relented. Best thing I ever did, he is always there at the door when I come home looking to see me. Will often seek me out in the house just to be with me. Most loving animal you ever saw. My cats could care less about me, maybe too smart for their own good!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2014
>>I've never seen a "seeing eye" aka service cat. I have never heard of a cancer, bomb or drug sniffing cat. Dogs can be trained some amazing things.


I agree: bicycleseats.com/assets/images/mydog.jpg

+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2014
For the dog, it's not about the food. He'll do the same with an inert ball or stick - all day long. Cats are just selfish.

I'm slightly sad that we're equating maximizing self-interest with intelligence. As others have pointed out, there aren't seeing-eye cats, or bomb-sniffing cats, or sheep-herding cats. Dogs are the Mother Teresa's of the pet world.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2014
I've owned both dogs and cats and currently have a dog. My sense is that intelligence varies greatly between individual animals. Cats seem to have a high general intelligence whereas dogs have a high social intelligence with great variation among individuals of both species.

A Border Collie is by far the most intelligent pet you can own, that is if you have work for it to do. But we've all met really dumb dogs, haven't we?

Most cats act as if they're doing you a favor by their very presence, and in general seem fairly intelligent. But most of them panic during a car ride.

To me it's a toss up and really about the individual animal.
Mar 18, 2014
Simplest explanation is that Snickers enjoys the interaction with you enough to eat anything you offer her.

What worries me is, you have not yet realized that both your pets have trained you to provide them pleasure plus food.

Advantage: pets.
Mar 18, 2014
My cat lures me to the food bowl as well. I thought it was because she does not want to eat alone. She is a typical scaredy cat, so I thought this was an instinct to be protected while distracted by the food.
Mar 18, 2014
In the 80's, I had a cat named Swagger and a dog named Daniel. They were the two smartest animals I have ever encountered. As others have noted, there is a difference between what we might perceive as cat intelligence and dog intelligence. However, what these two guys shared is that they were extremely vocal. Swagger knew dozens of English words, and he could articulate many of his feelings and desires verbally. He used a language that I could understand. I don't mean we sat around and discussed Shakespeare. However, he was adept at letting me know precisely what he desired by using feline vocalizations. Daniel could do the same thing with dog talk, though he was not as articulate. Even people who were not as attuned to them as I was could understand much of what they were trying to put across. The cat had a larger vocabulary, but the dog was superior at pantomime. I still consider the cat more intelligent because he was more adept at training me to understand his language.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2014
Both dogs and cats CAN be very smart, but I have noticed that the degree of intelligence varies widely across individuals in both species (as with humans). They also have some sensory abilities which humans either lack or possess only somewhat, further clouding the issue. (As if the lack of consensus on what exactly constitutes intelligence does not already make comparisons murky enough.)

There is no doubt that my wife and I are the servants of our two cats. Their mere appearance immediately elicits our attention and the desire to see whether they want something from us (food, petting, play, a door opened). They're very much like toddlers in their ability to manipulate our emotions. (Or, switching the emphasis, you could say that we are like parents who allow their children to manipulate their feelings.)

Both cats understand about a dozen questions; I have the feeling they could easily understand a lot more if they had to. If their answer is in the affirmative, they move in a manner that makes their response obvious. Otherwise, they simply appear to ignore the question.

Perhaps it is partly their curiosity about their immediate environment that makes cats seem more intelligent than many dogs; the fact that they are more firmly bound to their home territory than dogs usually are leads them to explore and inspect it in close detail. On the other hand, they are impervious to attempts to train them to (not) do things they have no inherent interest in (not) doing.

By comparison, some neighbours are inexplicably attached to their Scottish Terriers, of which there has been a steady procession in their household. I find these particular animals notable for their propensity to bark at everyone they see (familiar or not), and their ridiculous excitement whenever our lawn sprinklers start up. Our cats are definitely smarter. (And they don't bark. :)
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2014
I don't think it's a matter of intelligence. I suspect that what Snickers really loves is not so much the flavor of the food, but the interaction with her master. You could test this by putting some special treat in her bowl and seeing if you can temp her by hand feeding her regular food. It's not the food, it's the experience.

My wife is extremely intelligent, but no matter how many times I explain that we can order the same wine and cheese online, she always enjoys it more when we eat it together in expensive restaurants.
Mar 17, 2014
I've never seen a "seeing eye" aka service cat. I have never heard of a cancer, bomb or drug sniffing cat. Dogs can be trained some amazing things. While I believe cats also are intelligent, they seem to be in it just for themselves.
Mar 17, 2014
I had a roommate in college with a !$%*!$ spaniel and two 50-gal aquariums full of oscars. He would feed the fish thin slices of the dog's food that he made by cutting pieces with a razor blade.

I took care of his pets when he was away, including the dog food to fish food routine.

As soon as we started slicing up a piece of dog chow, that dog would go absolutely a-p-e-s-h-i-t. She would watch as you took the food from her bowl that she'd been ignoring, bark, whine, run around in a circle, and do tricks like "sit pretty" for as long as your patience would hold out.

I am a cat person and I've always had a cat. My current cat is super-smart. I have not succeeded in teaching her to shake hands, but she demonstrates that she understands by pulling her paw back and tucking it under her. I think she knows about 50 words and phrases like "hop up on the hot tub" and "go over there on the heat and I'll come getcha."

She greets me at the bottom of the stairs every morning, and on the front porch steps when I pull in the drive. She often follows me around like a puppy. When I say I'm going out to get the paper, she meets me at the front door.

She has a cat flap to go in and out on her own, and has no litter box. She eats only dry Meow Mix cat food that I buy in a 14 lb. bag for $10.99. She doesn't scratch furniture, get on counters, or anything else - she is in every way a consummate pet.

I have never wanted a dog and don't want one now, but last fall my teenage daughter begged hard enough that I caved and let her get one. (Mom was on her side. All I had was the cat to back me up.)

So now we have a chiweenie mutt from the pound - that's a cross between a chihuahua and a dachshund.

He is dumb as a post. He barks at me whenever I come home. Come to think of it he barks at everybody he's supposed to know. I've been working on sit, shake, and stay since the day we brought him home, and he gets that there's some vague correlation going on between tricks and treats, but I think he's got it backwards, like "if I just sit randomly but enthusiastically in that guy's vicinity food might fall out of the sky."

He still has accidents in the house if it's cold or rainy - this is Northern California and he thinks 45 is cold. He has not figured out the cat door, which I guess is good.

He can't be trusted alone in our house, so we keep him crated in a cage all day until after school, and HE DOESN'T SEEM TO MIND.

I don't remember my last cat doing what Scott described, but this one frequently coerces me into following her to her bowl to pet her while she eats. If I follow her to the bowl and _don't_ pet her, she circles the bowl and meows, although once she starts eating I can pull her tail and walk away.

The final nail in the coffin for me in this debate is that cats don't bark and dogs don't purr.
Mar 17, 2014
My wife used to work for a pet rescue group, and we ended up with 6 dogs and 3 cats. We've also fostered dogs and had several other pets in the past, so we have a pretty broad experience.

I'd say that dogs and cats have a pretty different set of mental skills, so it's hard to compare them. Compared to people, cats seem to have amazing spatial skills and are far-better or far-more-natural at planning their movements. Easy to admire that. They're enigmatic, self-absorbed, and confident -- all things that we associate with intelligence and have to work toward. But honestly, their social abilities are pretty bad -- just hidden by their apparent disinterest. Dogs have a far more human set of aptitudes, but being worse than us at everything, it's harder to be impressed. Nonetheless, they are reasonably intelligent and can size up a situation and predict a human's reaction or behavior pretty well.
Mar 17, 2014
Cats are smarter in an animal sense - won't jump out of a moving car, can catch squirrels, etc. But dogs are smarter in a human sense - my dog understands dozens of words, my cat barely understands "out".

When I think of dog intelligence, I always imagine a dog congress convening a million years ago, and the dog leader saying "Listen, we have been trying for centuries, but we just can't seem to catch those squirrels or any other food on our own. But, I have a solution" and then points to a picture of a human and suggests that all dogs give up their egos and cast their lot with us.
Mar 17, 2014
Yes, the people who say your pets are seeking different things are correct. Your cat sees you as, literally, a human resource. Your dog wants your actual attention.

You say that your dog is "bored" by the food in bowl. You're probably right. Why not buy her a Buster Cube or similar, if you don't have the inclination to provide her with mental stimulation yourself?
Mar 17, 2014
Phooey! I logged in and wrote a huge post and when I hit "Post Comment" it told me I had to log in and blew it away. That's the second time that time-out has cost me.
Mar 17, 2014
It does depend on the personality of the animal. I do agree that cats train their owners more than dogs do.

The smartest animal I ever had (8 dogs, 14 cats) was a Scotty. His goal in life was FOOD. I helped him hunt salamanders in a rock pile by turning over the rocks. He then trained my dad to go to the rock pile and do the same. He retrieved my father and then ‘explained’ the task to be done via demonstration until my father caught on. My father was freaked out by this, but continued to be the dog’s willing puppet.
He trained our Alsatian to throw down compost from tall flower pots for him to eat. He trained the Alsatian to use his superior muscle power to dig up grubs in the garden. He would lead the Alsatian to the place to dig and then turned around. The Alsatian would dig in that place and they both then shared the spoils. Although 6 years his senior he figured out that giving the Alsatian puppy licking around his snout would make him regurgitate food for him.
Mar 17, 2014
The day I realized my Golden Retriever was not as smart as I thought she was...

The dog LOVED to leap into the bed of my truck. So much so that when she would, on occasion, escape from the perimeter fence to scavenge for neighborhood cat food, I would just lower my tail gate and the sound would have her running back to leap into the bed.

Countless times that happened...

...then one day...

I had BACKED my truck in the driveway instead of pulled straight in.

As she ran the neighborhood, I confidently lowered me tail gate. Here she came. Running, and LEAPING... on the hood of my truck.

Mar 17, 2014
I agree with the guess that both pets are angling for interaction. Consider that a toy becomes a hundred times more exciting to most dogs and many cats when you pick it up.

You also have to allow that even within their respective species some pets are smarter than others.

When I was a kid, the cats would perch on the kitchen windowsill, watching for indications of feeding time. If anybody moved towards the back door, they'd jump down and congregate there. My older brother got in the habit of taking the water spray thingie from the sink and slowly cranking the window open, perhaps saying "Here, kitty kitty." He'd then spritz the cats with water and they'd scatter.

In short order we had a cat who'd jump down from the window the moment he saw my brother enter the kitchen; a few more who learned to jump when they recognized the spray thingie; and one who'd stay put and eagerly step up to examine the spray thingie, up to the moment he got spritzed. Based on his inevitable reaction I can assure you he wasn't a water-loving cat. There were definite gradations of cat intelligence there.

As for dogs, a coworker had an Australian Shepherd named Tyrone. When Tyrone saw their other, younger dog occupying his preferred place on the sofa, he would go to the kitchen and bark. The other dog would run to the kitchen to help bark. Tyrone would run back and take the sofa. The other dog would come back, look at Tyrone and wander off to do something else.
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